§ Order of the Day for the Second Reacting read.
§ TEE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill has been before Parliament for a very considerable time, and bad it not been for the very congested state of business in another place I doubt very much if I should have had to inflict upon your Lordships a further speech after the very clear and concise statement given by my noble friend the Earl of Plymouth on a previous occasion. As your Lordships are aware, what the Bill does is to amend certain sections of the 1926 Act, and I think I need not refer to that Act in any way beyond reminding the House that it set up what has generally come to be known as the grid system. In view of the fact that your Lordships have passed such a Bill on a previous occasion, I think it would be proper to-day that I should merely deal with the clauses as they stand in the Bill, endeavouring to explain them and informing the House at what point extra provisions or other provisos have been inserted since the Bill left this place last May.
The first clause is one which enables the Central Electricity Board to make arrangements with undertakers who own or control a non-selected station with a view to working such station in conjunction with the grid system during the remainder of its economic life. Experience of the 1926 Act has shown that certain stations that could not justifiably be con- 751 verted into selected stations are yet producing electricity at a cost which could justify their continued existence for the time being. It is proposed under this clause that these stations can be brought into the grid system by mutual arrangement, the owners agreeing to operate them under the directions of the Board who will supply the undertaking with energy from the grid and use these stations for peak load or stand-by purposes. That will obviously be to the mutual assistance and advantage of the owners and of the Board. The position of these voluntary agreements was further safeguarded during the passage of the Bill last Session by the insertion of a provision by which all agreements are to be subject to the approval of the Electricity Commissioners, who must be satisfied that the mutual agreement or arrangement does not show any financial loss. A new subsection—number (2)—which was inserted in another place, provides that the Electricity Commissioners must scrutinise the arrangements made legal by this Bill and which have already been entered into. Indeed, it lays down that the same scrutiny is to be applied as for future agreements, and if the existing agreements cannot satisfy these tests then they are to cease to operate.
Clause 2 is one which seeks to empower the Board to give supplies at special rates to authorised undertakers to pass on to large industrial concerns whose needs are exceptional. The proposal is that large industrial supplies made by agreement between the Board and the electricity undertaking in whose area the works are situated be put outside the, operations of the ordinary tariff, but the Board have first to satisfy the Commissioners that the agreement will not result in a financial loss to the Board. A proviso was inserted in another place providing that existing agreements for special supplies at special terms of the kind legalised by the clause should not be extended beyond their original period unless the Commissioners are satisfied by the Board in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) of Clause 2.
Clause 3 deals with a very highly complicated subject, but one which was fully explained by my noble friend on a previous occasion. It also is a clause which was not in any way altered either by your Lordships' House last year or by another place during this Session. I can 752 therefore claim that it has the approval not only of this House but also of another place, and for that reason I do not propose, with your Lordships' permission, to refer to it in detail. If, however, I were asked for an explanation of the clause, I could do no better than quote the actual words which were used by my noble friend Lord Plymouth on the previous occasion when this Bill was before your Lordships. He set out at quite considerable length what this clause would cover, and I would with great respect suggest that if your Lordships wish for information about it you cannot do better than refer to the speech which was made by my noble friend upon that occasion.
May I ask the noble Earl whether the old subsection (3) as it left your Lordships' House has not been omitted in another place?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I will deal with that, if I may, after the noble Lord has made his remarks. If I may complete my speech first, I will come back again to the noble Lord's question.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
Clause 4 is one which, although only giving effect to the recommendations of Lord Weir's Committee, appears to be the most controversial of the Bill. What this clause does is to enable the Board to give supplies directly to any railway company subject to the Board satisfying the Commissioners that the supply will not result in any financial loss to the Board. I should like here to point out to your Lordships that that provision runs the whole way through the Bill. Clause 4 will, of course, as your Lordships will observe, enable the railways to negotiate directly with the Board for the supply of energy, and it will therefore, I think, remove an obstacle to the securing of supplies for main line electrification. It is obvious to the whole House, I think, that in the case of a large electrification scheme it is clearly very difficult, if not impracticable, for a railway company to negotiate and make elaborate individual agreements with a number of separate undertakers, and the main lines of a railway must of necessity run through the territory of many undertakers, large and small alike.
753 There are two limitations to this clause. Firstly, the Board cannot supply energy to a railway company for traction purposes within the area of supply of the owner of a selected station without the consent of the owner, which is not to be unreasonably withheld. Secondly, it safeguards the position of undertakers some of whom may already he giving supplies to railway companies for incidental purposes, by providing that the supply taken from the Board shall not be used for incidental purposes except with the consent of the Minister of Transport. A new subsection (4) was inserted in another place providing that a supply from the Board cannot be used otherwise than for purposes of the railway undertaking without the consent of the authorised undertakers for the area concerned.
That is the Bill, and I have endeavoured to draw the attention of your Lordships to the particular passages which have been inserted in another place. Perhaps I may take this opportunity of making one or two remarks on the Motion which appears on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Mount Temple, that, in the event of your Lordships giving a Second Reading to this Bill, it shall be referred to a Select Committee. I have this afternoon examined with some care the journals of your Lordships' Houso.—
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
On a point of order, would it not be better for the noble Earl to reserve his criticisms of my Motion until I move the Motion?
§ THE EARL, OF MUNSTER
Certainly; if that is the noble Lord's wish I have no desire to act contrary to it. If that be his view I will move that the Bill be now read a second time, and I will answer the noble Lord's Motion at the appropriate stage.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE, who had given Notice that, in the event of the Bill being read a second time, he would move, That the Bill be referred to a, Select Committee, said: My Lords, I wish to say a very few words upon the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill; and if I am rather indistinctly heard I apolo- 754 gise, because I have a very bad cold. The noble Earl who (if he will allow me to say so) has so ably moved the Second Reading of this Bill prefaced his remarks—I think I am giving the gist of what he said—by saying that we were discussing a Bill which was an old friend in this House. I rather disagree with the noble Earl's presentation of the ease, which would perhaps lead noble Lords to imagine that as it has already been discussed they need not pay much attention to it this afternoon. As a matter of fact, when the Bill to which he referred left this House it was three and a-half pages long; the Bill which we are now discussing is seven and a quarter pages long, and he must appreciate that when you double the length of a Bill you must of necessity introduce a good deal of new matter. Therefore I think that this Bill requires some, though not undue, attention at your Lordships' hands.
§ I think there has been a great deal of unnecessary exaggeration about this Bill, especially in another place. It has been represented as a great advance in Socialism, and on that cry noble Lords opposite, I understand, are going to support it right through. If this is Socialism, then you are putting off "Socialism in our time" for 500 to 1,000 years; because, as a matter of fact, the people who would suffer most under Clause 4, which allows the grid to sell directly to the railway companies, would be those municipalities which are municipal traders, and very nearly two-thirds of the authorised undertakers who would come in contact with the railway companies would be municipalities. Therefore if the Central Electricity Board, a capitalist organisation, having been appointed by a Conservative Government, were to take the place of these municipalities, we should have a diminution of municipal trading rather than an extension of it.
§ I had the honour to be Minister of Transport when the Act of 1926 was passed. I may be wrong, but I cannot remember the railway companies at that time ever hinting even that under the Act of 1926 they would be prevented from getting electricity from the authorised undertakers owing to their lines passing through the areas of a great number. Therefore I am rather surprised that suddenly there is such an urgent necessity for them to give up the authorized 755 undertakers. After all it was a compromise, it was an understood thing that the authorised undertakers should have the business with the railway companies. They did not object to that at the time, and it does seem rather strange that the railway companies should now suddenly say: "Unless we have this power to buy directly from the grid it will never be possible to electrify, because we cannot make proper arrangements with so many companies." I believe there was some little difficulty in the case of the Southern Railway making arrangements with the various undertakers between London and Brighton, but that was happily composed and the line is in working order. I cannot see therefore why there is this great need for the main line railways to have electricity from the grid.
§ But, as a matter of practical polities, in my humble opinion it does not matter twopence whether they are allowed to get it from the grid or from the undertakers. I am very sceptical of any main line electrification ever taking place in this country. I think that where electrification is justified it has already been carried out, in the crowded suburban areas, and therefore so far as Clause 4 is concerned we are really discussing an academic question. I will reserve what other remarks I have to make until my Motion comes on. But because I have stated that in my considered opinion the magnitude of this Bill has been grossly exaggerated, it does not follow that when the question is raised of whether a Bill should remain on the floor of the House or go upstairs, you are not dealing with a very important question of principle. On a small Bill it is just as important as on a big Bill to have a question of principle endorsed, even though the matters with which it deals are of secondary importance.
My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, in congratulating the noble Earl on the clear exposé which he has given of this Bill. It is, of course, a fact that it has been considerably altered in another place, in some ways for the better. The noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, is also right in saying that my noble friends on this side of the House are prepared to give the Bill general support and to resist any delaying Motion of the kind which, I understand, is to be suggested presently by 756 the noble Lord. But I was a little astonished to find such a strong supporter of Municipal Socialism in the noble Lord. He now appears as a champion and defender of Municipal Collectivism.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
I really must ask the noble Lord to justify that remark. All I said was that the chief sufferers, if Clause 4 were acted upon, would not be private interests, but municipal interests.
I do not think I have misrepresented the noble Lord. The municipal authorities are, after all, democratically elected, and the Central Electricity Board, whatever its merits or demerits, once elected, remains and is not subject to a popular vote. However, I must reassure the noble Lord that, though this is a sort of step towards Socialism—I refer to the original Bill which this now amends—it is not our idea of Socialism; and therefore our support for it is not given for those reasons, nor indeed is it given because we particularly want to help His Majesty's Government in any of their measures, but because we think it is the best compromise that we can expect. When the noble Earl made his very clear statement about the Bill, as it is returned to your Lordships' House, I understood him to say that Clause 3 was not altered.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Subsection (3) of Clause 3 was not included in the Bill which was presented to the House of Commons this Session.
I thought the noble Earl had overlooked that point, and I was hoping that he would give us an explanation of why the subsection was omitted; but it is not a matter of very great substance, and I do not press that at this moment. There is one very important change in the Bill to which the noble Earl did not refer, and which makes it more acceptable to my noble friends on this side of the House. In Clause 4 there is added an important subsection, subsection (6)—and I am sure that Lord Mount Temple will support this—which was moved in another place by my noble friend Mr. Parkinson, which gives certain safeguards to the officers and servants of the railway companies in regard to anything that develops from this Bill. We thank the Government for that conces- 757 sion. It certainly improves the Bill from our point of view, and I am very glad that the Government in another place saw their way to accept Mr. Parkinson's most valuable Amendment. The noble Earl did not refer to that, but I am sure he also would wish to welcome it.
I agreed very much, if I may say so, with a remark that fell from the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, with regard to the objects of one part of this Bill, and that is to make it easier to electrify the main line railways. Before we part with this Bill I think we are entitled to know from the Government what are the further prospects of electrification on the main line railways. Since this Bill left another place a very important statement has been made by the directors of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, a company with which I had a great deal to do when I was a member of the other place, because after the railway amalgamation it was the only one that served the great port I had the honour to represent. They have not been keeping up-to-date with their equipment in any case, and I am not surprised they have made this statement that they have no intention to embark on any electrification. This statement was in the Press two days ago, and is, I think, a very serious statement indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, referred to the Southern Railway and its activities. With great respect to him and to the high office which he formerly held, I do not think it is quite right to describe the Southern Railway's successful electrification as simply a matter of suburban lines, for they have electrified to Brighton and they are going to electrify to Hastings. I think the lieges of Hastings and Brighton would object to their towns being called "suburbs of London."
Londoners call it that, but not Brightonians, or whatever they call themselves. It is anything but a suburb. It is a very long run; and they are going to extend to Southampton and will pass very close to the noble Lord's property and to that part of the country which he represented with such distinction in another place. This is not suburban development. That is the one outstanding case in this country with the 758 exception of certain truly suburban schemes of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. What is the prospect of further development on the main line railways? I think we are entitled to know that because if there are not to be further developments of electrification then obviously we are not making it possible for the railway companies to engage in these great undertakings. This question affects labour and employment in the country. It affects the question of keeping our railways up to date. It affects the whole nation, and is a matter of the highest importance. When this Bill originally came before your Lordships before the Recess, and my noble friend asked me to s[...]y a few words on it, I then admitted that this question of electrifying the main line railways was still a question of technical debate. There is no agreement, it is true, with regard to the long-distance run. There are still those who maintain that the Diesel or electro-Diesel engine is better for long runs through sparsely-populated country where there are not many stops, but I believe it is admitted that where there are thickly populated areas, with many stations and many industries serving a great mass of population living closely together, electrification has the advantage in every way.
Again referring for one moment only to the Southern Railway, where they have electrified there have grown up great new places of residence, dormitory towns, which have led to the development of property, employment for the building industries, and have enabled people of modest means to live in healthy surroundings in the country and have been of great benefit in every way. We know the position with regard to the Southern Railway; what is happening with regard to the other railways? I think we are entitled to know from the Government what the prospects are. This is a very important question indeed, and one which is worthy of attention at the present time when we are still faced with immense unemployment among the people, and especially important to workers who would be given work on such schemes. If it is a fact that the owners of municipal electrical undertakings are in danger under this Bill of being unjustly treated in spite of the Amendments in another place, then I think your Lord- 759 ships should very carefully consider whether further safeguards should not be put in. No doubt in the further stages this matter will be considered. But apart from that, and apart from still desiring to see that no injustice is done to any undertakers, I am asked to offer general support to the Bill. We think it is a useful measure. It is in the right direction, and we hope it will have a speedy passage. It has been very long delayed. Above all, we hope that the results will lead to a great extension of electrification on the British main line railways, with advantages to British engineering and employment in this country.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time. I do so because this Bill deals with a subject that I have very much at heart. I should have liked to have said a few words on this Bill last May when it was so ably debated in a slightly different form in your Lordships' House, but I had not taken my seat at that time. I would like to say at the outset that I do not wish to see the passage of this Government Bill through your Lordships' House hampered in any way, as T have a great respect for the work that has been carried out by both the Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board. Their labours have been untiring, and one can only hope that the ultimate results will amply justify the objects of the 1926 Act. Already there have been some very gratifying reductions in the price of electricity, and in the near future one will hope to see further important reductions.
But I venture to think that one word of caution should be given to the noble Earl who, I understand, is to reply for His Majesty's Government. It is on Clause 4 of this Bill. I fully appreciate that our great railway companies should be classified separately for the purchase of electricity for certain purposes, owing to the fact of their unique geographical positions, inasmuch as their territory extends through the areas of so many authorised undertakers, and unless one can get uniformity of price the encouragement for further railway electrification may not be very great. It is very much hoped that with this uniformity of price which Clause 4, if your Lordships pass 760 this Bill, will make it legal to give, the railway companies may see their way clear to electrify more of their lines in the near future, which would materially help the electrical and allied trades. The word of caution which I venture to suggest is that Clause 4 must not set a precedent to ally other industries.
Just for a few moments I would like to refresh your Lordships' memory with regard to the 1926 Act. When the Central Electricity Board was constituted it was clearly laid down that the Board was not to own generating stations, and was only to sell current to authorised undertakers, with a proviso about areas where no authorised undertakers exist. I am told there are about 600 authorised undertakers in this country, and out of that 600 about 140 have selected stations, and under Clause 4 of this Bill only selected station owners will be permitted to supply current direct to the railway companies. One must therefore appreciate that the loss of what is technically called the "diversity factor" to authorised non-selected station-owners and distributing companies, if the railway companies electrify in their areas, may be fairly considerable, but it is hoped that they will benefit in another direction by lower grid tariffs. With these few words of suggested caution I will gladly support the Government in this Bill, and I thank your Lordships for the patient way in which you have listened to me.
My Lords, may I begin by saying how much interested we all were to hear the clear and able manner in which the noble Lord who has just sat down addressed your Lordships for the first time? I should like very strongly to support my noble friend Lord Mount Temple in his Motion that before we do anything further in the matter of this Bill it be referred to a Select Committee. The whole gist of this Bill is in Clause 4. The whole heart of the thing is that it should be an encouragement to the railway administrations to go in for main line electrification. I have spent a long time studying this subject, and I must say that I regard the question of main line electrification from the technical point of view with the utmost misgiving. I believe it is utterly and entirely wrong.
761 I notice with regret that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, accepted all the things that the railway officials told us about the magnificent success of the Southern Railway, the enormous increase of traffic due to electrification and so on. I have been studying this matter at least ever since the subject came up, and I cannot find the slightest justification whatever for that claim. Over and over again precise figures have been asked for from the Southern Railway. I have asked for them myself in this House, and the spokesman of the Ministry of Transport told me he had not got them. They have been asked for over and over again. I am in the habit of attending meetings of the Southern Railway Company, and again and again shareholders have yelled and shouted: "Give us the figures! Give its the figures!" Every time they have been refused. The administration of the Southern Railway will not give us the figures; the administration of the Southern Railway dare not give us the figures. The administration of the Southern Railway at the present moment is engaged throwing good money after bad in electrifying greater and greater stretches of the Southern Railway, and it is a scandal.
There is no reason at all why railway electrification should be successful. The noble Lord has not told us of any advantages that such railways have. The Southern Railway say that an enormous increase of traffic has come owing to electrification. There are absolutely no figures whatever to support that contention. The only figures that I have ever been able to come across bearing on the subject were given by the General Manager of the Southern Railway, I think about a couple of years ago. He compared the traffic before various sections of the Southern Railway were electrified with the traffic in 1932. The beginning of the Southern Railway electrification was somewhere about 1910, long before the War, long before the great post-war building programme Started. He produced figures which showed that the traffic on those sections of the Southern Railway had increased from 137,000 persons—per week or per month, I forget which—to 215,000 persons, but there was absolutely 762 nothing whatever to show that this increase was due to electrification.
I have gone into the subject as deeply as I can. Not long ago the great French Company, the Eastern Railway, built a large number of new suburban engines with which they ran their suburban traffic. I asked them to be so kind as to permit me to travel on the engines to see what they could do in the way of starting and getting into speed. They kindly allowed me to do so. We had a train behind us of twenty-one carriages capable of holding no fewer than 2,000 persons. I took the times very carefully, and then compared them with the times on the London Underground, and so far as I could make out the electrified London Underground saved as nearly as possible half a minute each time the train started. There was absolutely no other advantage than that from the point of view of the passengers. It is utterly absurd to suggest that this country should spend millions of money in order that each time a train starts half a minute should be gained. It is utterly out of the question.
From the technical point of view it is of the utmost importance that this subject should go before a Select Committee, and I very much hope that your Lordships will accept the Motion of my noble friend. I do not think there is anything more I need trouble your Lordships with, but I beg you to remember that most important technical questions are involved about which we know nothing, and it is of the utmost importance that we should avoid flinging tens of millions and hundreds or thousands of millions of money away upon this subject, and that the railway administrations should not commit themselves to the frightful losses that might be incurred. In connection with this I should like to say that having frequently said many hard things of Mr. Whitelaw's administration—and I shall probably say many more—I am in this matter entirely and absolutely with him; I think he is perfectly right from beginning to end.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, some of the remarks that have been made on the Second Reading of this Bill to-clay deal, I think, chiefly with Committee points, and I will endeavour to reply to them in the course of answering each speech that has been made. In the first place I want to make it quite clear to the 763 noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that subsection (3) of Clause 3 was not actually deleted in the House of Commons. What happened was this. It was not included in the new Bill that was submitted to the House and an Amendment was put down in the name of a member of the House of Commons to include it in the Bill again. This the Government resisted and the honourable member withdrew the Amendment.
The arguments for and against this Bill appear to me to be centred entirely upon Clause 4, which deals with main line electrification. I am not in a position to give a clear exposition of the views of the railway companies as to whether it is desirable or not to electrify the main lines, but I think it is worth while taking into consideration some facts which were given in the House of Commons on that particular point when the Bill was before them for Second Reading. The speech that was made by Sir Robert Horne in another place gave hopes that the difficulties which have beset the railway companies up to now in bargaining with every individual undertaker on all sections of the line would be obviated by this Bill, and the railway companies would then deal with one undertaker direct. In that case it will be obvious to your Lordships that the railway companies have now a definite start and can consider whether they should or should not proceed with electrification schemes. They can, of course, make further inquiries as to the cost which would be involved, and they might come to some conclusion, but I do not think that I can be expected on behalf of the Government to enter into a long argument as to whether electrification of the main lines is desirable or not.
My noble friend Lord Mount Temple, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made reference to municipal undertakers. It is not the intention of the Government to damage municipal undertakers in any way, and indeed I do not think, although that is quite a Committee point, that the contents of this Bill do in any way affect the municipal undertakings. With regard to the maiden speech made by noble friend Lord Wolverton, I feel sure your Lordships would desire me to extend our congratulations to him upon that speech. He is a young Peer who is actively engaged in the world 764 of banking, and I have no doubt that in a few years his energy will be more required in your Lordships' House than in the banking world. He asked whether the giving of electricity to the main lines was a precedent. It should not be taken as a precedent in any way and there is no intention on the part of the Government to give help to the other companies such as the harbour and docks boards which are mentioned in the Report. If the noble Lord requires indication of what the proposals are regarding main line electrification, I would suggest to him he should read the Report published by Lord Weir's Commission. I think I have answered all the questions except the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who was supporting the next Motion on the Order Paper, and with your Lordships' permission I will deal with that after that Motion has been moved.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which appears on the Order Paper in my name—namely, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. I hope that the Government, and especially my noble friend the Leader of the House, will appreciate that I am not moving this Motion in any way in a hostile spirit, that I am not endeavouring to delay the passage of the Bill by a fortnight or three weeks or a month, but that I am moving it honestly because this seems to me a most appropriate occasion on which we can use the procedure of a Select Committee. Nobody will contest, I am sure, that a Select Committee affords far greater opportunity for five members of your Lordships' House, and through them the House as a whole, to become acquainted with the pros and cons of a Bill. I admit that where great principles such as Home Rule or the government of India are concerned, you must keep the Bill on the floor of the House, but where you have a Bill like this measure, which is not of first-class importance although very interesting, involving many technical questions which cannot possibly be cleared up by debate in your Lordships' House, then I submit that as a matter of principle the Bill ought to be sent upstairs, where witnesses can be examined on oath and full inquiry made into the merits of the Bill.
765 I ask any noble Lord here who is not an expert in finance or electricity if, having read the Bill, he really understands what it all means. Probably some who are experts might not understand it at all. Do they really understand Clause 2 and Clause 3? I will read the beginning of Clause 3:The price to be charged under Section twelve of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1926, by authorised undertakers for electricity supplied to a railway company for haulage or traction purposes shall include—I confess that I have not the slightest idea of what that means, and I should be very much surprised if anyone without considerable coaching or investigation knows what it means.
- (a) an amount equal to such proportion of the contributions payable by the undertakers in respect of the expenses of the Electricity Commissioners as is properly attributable to the supply of that electricity to the railway company; and
- (b) such charges and allowances in respect of any transmission line or part thereof used by the undertakers for the purpose of that supply as would be included if the supply were a supply in bulk to authorised undertakers."
If you keep this Bill on the floor of the House, noble Lords will raise the question of what Clause 3 means. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill, who cannot be expected to know all these things, cannot answer. He has to go to the permanent officials, who are conveniently placed at the end of your Lordships' House, and in a very hurried way get some superficial answer—I am not blaming the officials, it must necessarily be superficial—to give to your Lordships. If the Bill is kept on the floor of the House, a large part of the text will not be understood and must go unrevised, and therefore we shall not be performing the duties that we are supposed to carry out of going through everything and passing wise legislation. Take the matter of charges. We do not know in the least from the Bill what the charges are to be. How can we know? We have had a very powerful speech from my noble friend Lord Monkswell, dealing with electrification. I do not know whether he is right or whether the experts of the Southern Railway are right, but if you have a Select Committee you will have the opportunity of finding out which is right. My noble friend could go before that Committee and give evidence, and we should know whether 766 changes of supply or main line electrification are justified or not.
I could go through the Bill in considerable detail, and show, to my own satisfaction at any rate, that a close examination is needed. Take Clause 1 and Clause 2. Here you find an extraordinary thing. You read in Clause 1 that:the Central Electricity Board shall have power and shall be deemed always to have had power under that Act"—that is the 1926 Act—by agreementto do so-and-so. It is the same in Clause 2. That means that we have to give an indemnity for certain illegal acts done by the Central Electricity Board—no doubt in good faith, but still illegal. Shall we get as good an explanation in debate here as we could get before a Select Committee where witnesses can be cross-examined and the departmental officials can be asked why they did these things? Surely my noble friend Viscount Hailsham may consider my request to be not unreasonable. I do not put forward my Motion in order to obstruct the passage of the Bill, but because I honestly believe—and I believe many noble Lords would support me if they could—that you will get a better Bill by not rushing it through.
§ Moved, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.—(Lord Mount Temple.)
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I must confess that I was a little surprised yesterday upon seeing for the first time the Motion which my noble friend had seen fit to put upon the Order Paper asking your Lordships to send this Bill to a Select Committee. At some considerable length this afternoon I went through the journals of your Lordships' House in the endeavour to find out whether the noble Lord was present on the previous occasions when this Bill was debated last April and May. I could find no reference at all to the noble Lord having been in the House on those occasions. There was no suggestion made in die speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, who opposed the Government on this Bill, that the measure should be sent to a Select Committee. Perhaps it is necessary for me to remind your Lordships, and indeed my noble friend himself, that the Act of 1926 was actually 767 passed through Parliament during the time when he was Minister of Transport, and he himself then violently opposed any such proposals in the other place and when the Bill reached this House he put up three very powerful Parliamentary speakers—the present Earl Peel, the late Earl of Birkenhead and the late Earl of Balfour—all of whom strongly opposed any such procedure as that of sending the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
May I interrupt my noble friend? There is more joy over one sinner that repenteth—
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I hope the noble Lord will repent on this occasion. The noble Lord went further. He asked: "Does anybody understand what the Bill means?" and he went on to say that the present Bill cannot be understood, and that if taken on the floor of the House much of it must go completely unrevised. It is, I think, interesting to note that during the discussion of the Bill in your Lordships' House, there were so many noble Lords who quite understood what the Bill meant, that no fewer than 140 columns of the OFFICIAL RETORT were devoted to its discussion, and in the House of Commons the discussion occupied no fewer than 292 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT. It appears to me that if nearly 400 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORTS, which would he equivalent to a very large book, could be devoted to the discussion of this Bill, then clearly those of your Lordships, and indeed those honourable members of another place who took part in it, knew what they were talking about.
Let me further remind noble Lords that what this Bill does is to propose certain Amendments of the 1926 Act. Experience, as I have pointed out, has shown these to be necessary in order to ensure the proper working of the principles of that Act, which my noble friend himself introduced. And as the appointment of a Select Committee was very strongly resisted in 1926, I fail to see—and the noble Lord has not in any way convinced me—that a Select Committee is necessary on this occasion. If your Lordships should decide to send this Bill to a Select Committee, what would happen? It would have the inevitable result of delaying the enactment of the Bill for some very considerable time, and my noble friend, from his experience of the 768 previous measure, must know that this would be very undesirable.
I do not think that there is any other point which I can put before your Lordships, beyond impressing again upon the House that the Bill is well understood in its present form, and that it would be far better to have a free and frank discussion on the floor of your Lordships' House than to send this Bill upstairs, where considerable time would elapse and where great expense would be involved, with the possible result that the Bill would come hack to your Lordships in precisely the same form as it left the House at the end of the Second Reading. I cannot see any reason, and the noble Lord has not convinced me that there is any reason, why this Motion should be accepted by the Government, and I would ask your Lordships to support the Government in taking the Committee stage of the Bill on the floor of the House, as it was taken with great satisfaction to all parties concerned on the previous occasion last year.
§ On Question, Motion negatived, and Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.