§ 8.30 p.m.
§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair.]
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON moved, after Clause 57 to insert the following new clause:
§ "Setting up of Electricity Appeal Tribunal.
§ (1) Forthwith upon the dissolution of the Electricity Commissioners the Minister shall by order constitute a tribunal (in this Act referred to as the Electricity Appeal Tribunal) which shall consist of a chairman who shall be a barrister or solicitor of not less than seven years' standing appointed by the Lord Chancellor and two other members appointed by the Minister, one of whom shall be a person having experience in the generation and supply of electricity and the other of whom shall have had experience in commercial matters.
§ No member of the Central Authority or of any Electricity Board and no person employed by them shall be qualified to be a member of the Tribunal.
§ (2) It shall be the duty of the Electricity Appeal Tribunal to approve the maximum tariff fixed for each area and for the supply of electricity for railways and to consider—
- (a) any representation from any person other than an area board with respect to the prices charged for the supply of electricity by the Central Authority or the Electricity Boards and any representation from any person in regard to any allegation as respects undue preference or undue discrimination by an Electricity Board
- (b) any representation in regard to the matters specified in the preceding paragraph which may he made to the Electricity Appeal Tribunal by a consultative council either upon the request of any person or otherwise;
- (c) any question which may be referred to it for consideration by the Minister or by the Central Authority.
§ (3) When the Electricity Appeal Tribunal have considered any such representation or question as aforesaid they shall report to the Minister upon their conclusions and shall make such representations to the Minister in connection with those conclusions as they think expedient.
§ (4) Any order made under this section may contain such incidental and consequential provisions for the payment of remuneration to members of the Tribunal by the Central 403 Authority with the approval of the Treasury either by way of annual salary or of fees, and for determining the procedure of the Tribunal as the Minister thinks fit.,
§ The procedure of the Tribunal shall be such as to secure that a member of the Tribunal shall not have any special interest such as may tend to interfere with his impartial consideration of the representation or question made or referred to them.
§ (5) The Tribunal shall be furnished by the Central Authority with such accommodation as appears to them to be requisite for the proper discharge of their functions and with such clerks, officers and staff as appear to them with the approval of the Treasury, as to numbers to be requisite for the purpose and the Central Authority shall pay to the clerks, officers and staff of the Tribunal such remuneration as they may, with the approval of the Treasury determine.
§ (6) The Minister and the Central Authority shall provide the Tribunal with such information and other assistance as the Tribunal think expedient for the purpose of assisting them to discharge their functions.
§ (7) The Tribunal shall make an annual report to the Minister of their proceedings and the Minister shall lay the report before each House of Parliament together with a statement of any action which has been taken by him in consequence of any recommendation made to him by the Tribunal during the period to which the report relates.
§ (8) Until such time as an Order is made under this section the powers and duties conferred and imposed by this section upon the Electricity Appeal Tribunal upon its constitution shall by virtue of this provision be exercised and discharged by the Electricity Commissioners."
§ The noble Viscount said: We are getting near the last clauses of the Bill. That is something on which I think, we may all congratulate ourselves. We may also congratulate one another on the work which we have done. We have done a great deal to the Bill, and we have not yet divided. There is, however, one rather sombre reflection which occurs to me. Although we have reached Clause 57 the Bill has been singularly silent about the interests of the consumer. Where any monopoly is created, whether it is under private enterprise, under a municipality or under a nationalization scheme, whether that monopoly is national or regional, the protection of the consumer is of the utmost importance. And he has always been so protected by Parliament.
§ Let us see, for a moment, what the position is to-day. In every special Act or order which gives powers to an undertaker to supply electricity over an area, 404 big or small, with a franchise, and whether that undertaker be statutory, a limited company or a municipality, Parliament has always fixed a maximum charge. And Parliament has also been careful to lay down that that charge cannot be varied to the detriment of the consumer without express approval—in the old days the approval of the Board of Trade and later, when the Electricity Commissioners came into being, the approval of the Electricity Commissioners. The consumer has always had the right of appeal to the Electricity Commissioners.
§ He can appeal by way of the local authority, for quite rightly they are given the power to represent the consumers in their area; but also—and this has, I think, been a wise feature of the Electricity Acts, because in some cases the local authority is also the provider of electricity—it has been provided that where twenty consumers are gathered together and wish to complain they shall have a right of access to an impartial tribunal. The fact that there shall be adequate representation is also reasonable, because you do not want a tribunal like the Electricity Commissioners to be troubled with purely vexatious claims. More important than that, however, is to ensure that where there is a genuine claim, that claim should be heard. Where an individual appeals, he appeals in the form to reduce the maximum permitted charge, but in fact there is a completely effective way of challenging whatever charge is made.
§ Even if a consumer is being charged an amount which he thinks is excessive, but which is within the permitted limit, under the fixed maximum charge he can frame his appeal in the form to reduce the maximum charge and thereby to reduce what is is permissible to charge to what is right in all the circumstances. No undertaker is allowed to increase his maximum charge without the permission of the Electricity Commissioners. That protection of the consumer which has been universally given is equally necessary, perhaps even more necessary, if in place of a number of different authorities with limited franchises—limited in area and limited in time—there is one single monopoly nation-wide and perpetual in its life and power.405
§ This principle of the right of appeal of interested parties has been fully acknowkedged and fully conceded in the Transport Bill. Let me at once pay my tribute to the Government in this. In the Transport Bill it has been conceded not as the result of discussions in this House and agreement on an argument; it was recognised from the start by the Government in presenting the Transport Bill. From the start the Bill laid down that the structure of charges of this nation-wide monopoly should come before the Transport Tribunal, a judicial tribunal such as I propose here, with some person of legal eminence in the chair and practical men to assist him. The Government readily conceded in this House that not only should the Transport Commission have to submit their initial charges scheme and any variation which they might propose to the Transport Tribunal, but that the Minister, who may have to make (as under the Transport Bill I think he will have to make) some interim increases in charges, should not make even those interim increases without going to the Transport Tribunal and taking their advice. Again, I must pay my tribute to the Government, for the Leader of the House was most anxious and meticulous to see that in the right of audience before the Transport Tribunal every possible interest should have the right to appear, and the right to be heard. That is obviously right.
§ If it is right in transport, surely it is right in electricity, which enters perhaps even more than transport into every industry and into the domestic life of almost every single person. Therefore, we have proposed this Amendment, which combines both the precedent of the Transport Bill and the existing protection of the Electricity Commissioners. As regards the Transport Bill—if it is not irrelevant or out of order for me to refer to this—your Lordships will observe when our Amendments for increasing the jurisdiction of the Transport Tribunal come back to us from another place that the other place has made no variation at all in the great, wide and pervading power of the Transport Tribunal
§ What we propose in this Amendment is that the right of appeal and jurisdiction shall continue to be exercised by the Electricity Commissioners, who enjoy that power to-day, until such time as the Minister chooses to abolish them. But 406 if and when he does abolish them, he must then appoint—and I think he is the right person to appoint—an alternative tribunal (here again I think we follow the precedent of the Transport Tribunal) consisting of a legal chairman and two other members, one a member well versed in the whole of the electricity business—both generation and distribution—and the other a man of general commercial knowledge. The jurisdiction which we propose for this Tribunal is that, first of all, they shall approve the maximum charges of the different area boards, exactly in the way that the Electricity Commissioners to-day have to approve the maximum charges of every distributor in this country, be he commercial or a municipal authority; and also (and this follows the existing procedure) that they shall approve the tariff charge for supply to railway companies. The second area of their jurisdiction is the right to entertain individual complaints, whether of existing charges or of discrimination. Let me be quite fair. I think that discrimination or undue preference to-day is not a matter with which the Electricity Commissioners deal. It is a matter upon which the subject has a right to go to court. I am not quite sure—the Lord Chancellor will enlighten me—as to whether, under the Bill as it stands, there will not be the right to go to court on discrimination or undue preference.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I leave it to the much greater wisdom of the Lord Chancellor to advise us as to whether he thinks it better that that jurisdiction should be left in the court or whether, if a tribunal are established, it would be wise to give it to that Tribunal. I would venture to think that it is not unreasonable that it should be the Tribunal, but I think we would wish to be entirely guided by the learned and noble Viscount. But on individual charges, obviously there should be the right of appeal, as there is to-day, to the Electricity Commissioners. The consumer might reasonably say that the Tribunal which we propose should have as complete and absolute a jurisdiction on the fixing of maximum charges as the Electricity Commissioners have at the present time; in that way we would leave the law entirely unchanged. On individual complaints we make a more modest 407 claim, and we propose in our Amendment that the Tribunal, having heard a claim, should make their report and make their recommendations to the Minister. The Minister must publish that, and publish what action he has taken upon it.
I have a completely open mind as to whether the jurisdiction of the Tribunal should be absolute or should be qualified in the way of making recommendations. We have put in the more modest claim that they should make a recommendation, because that follows exactly the procedure agreed in this House, and agreed with the Government, under the Civil Aviation Act. There the whole House agreed that there ought to be a right of appeal both about fares and about facilities. It was, your Lordships will observe, a much wider field of claim. It was not only that the charges were excessive, but that the facilities provided were inadequate. That was a very big field, because it meant that a municipality—Manchester for instance—could say, "We are not being adequately served in the matter of aviation services, and we claim that these Government monopolies should provide us with additional service or a new service."
Of course, that might mean a great expense, and I think the House rightly felt on civil aviation that where the claim was so large, and where it depended not only upon whether fares were reasonable but whether there should be additional air-lines, it would be rather a strong thing to give the Arbitration Tribunal the power to order the Government to undertake a completely new air service. We therefore felt that it was right that action should be in the form of a recommendation, and that the Minister must either act upon it or publish it and explain to the country what course he took. Therefore, there were strong reasons in the Civil Aviation Act for limiting the power of the Tribunal to making recommendations and not to give them absolute power.
But perhaps my noble friends and I have been unduly modest in what we are proposing, which is that in an individual claim there shall not be a right to make an absolute order about what is fair, but to make a recommendation. That certainly errs, if at all, on the side of modesty. In the whole of this Bill there are only the Consultative Councils, but no 408 one will pretend that they are more than consultative. There are equally in the Transport Bill consultative councils. I hope they will do their work. But in the Transport Bill the Government themselves were convinced that you must have a tribunal with jurisdiction over rates and charges. I submit that that is the very least the consumer has the right to demand and the very least which it is our duty to give him. I beg to move.
After Clause 57, insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Swinton.)
I support the inclusion of this additional clause, for the following reasons. The public and the consumers had a right to appeal to a third party at a hearing. That right was enshrined in the orders governing the Electricity Commission. They have now been deprived of those rights because the rights have been transferred by Clause 57 to the Minister, and by a further part of Clause 57 may be transferred by the Minister to the Central Authority. It cannot therefore be properly alleged, as I suspect would have been the reply to this Amendment, that the public is properly protected by the institution of the consultative councils. I think I am right in saying that the powers of the Electricity Commissioners as far as the protection of the public is concerned are not transferred to the consultative councils, but they are transferred to the Minister and from him to the Central Authority.
Those powers were considered to be a necessary safeguard at the time, but it is proposed to do away with them for reasons which have not been stated, and to substitute for those legal safeguards these rather nebulous bodies, the consultative councils. But there is a vast difference between the independent Tribunal for the protection of the public which had its being as far back as the Railway and Canal Commissions, and the consultative council as defined in Clause 7. If, therefore, the powers which the Electricity Commissioners had, which were analogous to those which the Railway and Canal Commission and their successors possessed, are transferred to the Minister, and by him to the Central Authority, it follows that there is no independent body to whom the public can appeal except the consultative councils. Now, in addition to that difference existing and the old safeguard having 409 been abolished by the centralization of the power by the Minister and his nominees in the Central Authority, it is also provided in Clause 7 that the consultative council shall consist of a number of persons, of whom not less than half shall be appointed by local. authorities—that is, "not less than" but which may be, in fact, one half—and the other half by persons whom the Minister shall think fit and proper to appoint.
Therefore not only is the power of reference to an independent body removed, but the only thing which has been substituted in its place, which is a very slender and nebulous body, is also composed as to one half appointed by the Minister. It, therefore, follows that all the safeguards which the public had have been transferred from the bodies which did exist, and indeed from the bodies which are proposed, to the person of the Minister himself, and from him by delegation to the Central Authority. On those grounds, I cannot feel that the public has any adequate protection against the will of the Minister except that power which is enshrined in Parliament to tell the Minister that they do not agree with him—a procedure which is sufficiently laborious to be unusable for the purpose of determining tariffs and the facilities which the Central Authority may offer to them. If that is so, and if my reasoning on that point is right, I can see that there is no other course open in justice to the consumer than to safeguard his rights and to reinstitute a Tribunal such as is provided for in the clause which is now before the Committee and which I support.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I should also like to support this new clause. I think it is one of the most important clauses to come before us during the Committee stage of this Bill. Although I admit that my noble friend Lord Rennell said that the consultative councils are for the protection of the consumer, I do not think that those consultative councils are given adequate powers or are central enough. My meaning is, as the Lord Chancellor said yesterday, that this is to be a national organization and not a regional organization. If it is to be a national organization and not a regional organization I think we ought to have a central body to decide these rates, because, under the Bill as now drafted we have fourteen area 410 boards and fourteen consultative councils. These councils will consist of not less than twenty nor more than thirty people, of whom not less than one half will be representatives of local authorities.
Under the Bill as now drafted, they are to be told the plans of the area boards and their general character. So far as I can see, they are not given adequate powers to demand information as to how tariffs are built up, which is very important. I do think that this should be done on a central basis, as it is now by the Electricity Commissioners. In my twelve to fourteen years' experience in the industry, there have been a few ups and downs with the Commissioners, but, on the whole, their deal rigs with the industry have been most lair, and I think they have acted as a fair go-between between the consumers and the industry. I should like to pay my modest tribute to their wonderful work. I personally am very sorry, as the Lord Chancellor has said that he is very sorry, in certain ways that the Minister has taken certain powers to abolish them. I would like to see them preserved.
If that is not to be, the public should have adequate protection against decisions of the Central Authority by a snail Tribunal consisting of a legal chairman, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, technical men experienced in generation and distribution, appointed by the Minister, and also a financial man. That would be a very small Tribunal. Then adequate protection would be given. With regard to the functions of the Tribunal, which are very important, I am sure the noble and learned Viscount would agree that the findings of the Tribunal should be made public, and then it would be up to Parliament, if it thought fit, to challenge the Minister's rights in that regard. With those few words, I should like to support this Amendment to insert what would be one of the most important new clause in the Bill.
I should very much like to support this Amendment, which has been fully deployed by my noble friends. If the Government have a mandate for this Bill, it seems to me it is because they have said that the consumers—the public—are going to be better off as a result of it. I hope, indeed, that the public are going to be better off. But, if that is 411 to be the case, and if the public are to be better off, surely we have the right to expect that the public should not have less protection under this Bill than they have to-day. That, it seems to me, is one of the chief points for this Amendment. We are asking only for the protection that the public have to-day. For that reason I would most strongly urge on the noble and learned Viscount that he should meet us on this point. I do not think we are asking for anything unreasonable. We are merely asking that this Bill, which is supposed to give more to the public than ever before, should at least include those things the public already have.
I wish to support this Amendment very strongly indeed. I believe that it is a very important Amendment. As the noble and learned Viscount knows, I do not believe in nationalization. I spoke against it on the Second Reading, and I stated exactly what I thought about this Bill and the nationalization of the industry. At the same time, I ended up my speech by saying that, whilst I was against nationalization and against the Bill, I believed that this Chamber, being a chamber of revision, ought to do its best to improve the Bill. It has been improved in another place, but I think we should try to better it in this House. I do want the noble and learned Viscount to believe that I am approaching this subject from that point of view, and not from the point of view of opposition to the Bill.
With considerable experience in the electrical industry and the electrical supply industry, I have viewed this Bill with grave doubts, and on the Second Reading I said exactly what I believed was wrong with it. I believe the greatest blot—if I may so describe it—in the administrative machinery provided by this Bill is the omission of the link which gives the consumer full opportunity of appeal in the event of his having a grievance on the question of charges or on any other question. That right of appeal is not there. The Electricity Commissioners, as my noble friends have said, did supply that link, and, not only did they supply it, but they had an organization which was technical and full of knowledge of the whole industry. When appeals were made to the Electricity Commissioners, at least 412 the public knew that they were being considered by people who understood the question, and if they were not satisfied with the result at any rate they knew that the best investigation had been made into the subject.
Now we are told that the Electricity Commissioners are to be abolished. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, on Second Reading told us that that was the case. I suggest that the only way in which you can make this Bill a good Bill is to fill in the void which is being" left by the abolition of the Electricity Commissioners, and the manner in which my noble friend, Lord Swinton, in this Amendment, has suggested that it should be filled is, I think, the best way in which it can be done, considering all the circumstances. If it is not done, you leave a system under which one body not only have to decide what the tariffs are going to be—and not only the tariffs for bulk supply, but the tariffs for retail supplies and the tariffs for varying supplies when they are required in the various areas—but also have to decide, when an appeal is made to the consultative councils, as to whether their findings are correct or not. That is quite against every ethic of, I was going to say our constitutional system, but I think it better to say our constitutional custom, that has ever been heard of so far as I know.
I submit to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and to the Government that they should fill this void and protect the consumer, for as the Bill stands the consumer will not have the protection which he has to-day, and which perhaps the noble and learned Viscount may say is not as much as it ought to be. But, at any rate, the consumer is left under this Bill, as it stands, without any real protection at all. I ask the noble and learned Viscount seriously to consider this Amendment. As my noble friend Viscount Swinton has said, this principle was agreed to in the discussions on the Transport Bill, and I do not think there is any real reason why the consumer of electricity should be put in a worse position than those who are using or who are going to use transport. The noble and learned Viscount may say that there is no Rates Tribunal in respect of the telephones. Sometimes we wish there were. We sometimes wish also that there were a tribunal in respect of the Post 413 Office as well. However, the time for legislation in those connexions has now gone past, and I do not suppose we will ever get anything of the sort now. But this is cutting into the raw, and in cutting into the raw let us, at least, make provision for every circumstance and issue. The whole of this Bill, we have been told by the Government, has been designed in the interests of the consumer and in the interests of the nation. Therefore the interests of the consumer and the interests of the nation ought to be protected. I have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
None of your Lordships need trouble to explain to me that in moving or supporting this Amendment you are endeavouring to improve the Bill. I know that quite well; I realize it to the full. Nor need any of your Lordships labour to justify the right of this House to put in this Amendment. That is precisely the sort of function which this House can most properly perform. Knowing as I do that your Lordships think this is an important Amendment and that it does give protection to the consumer, it seems to me that your Lordships would be doing less than your duty if you did not press this matter. I equally would be very ready and much happier if I could meet your Lordships; but I cannot. That being so, I must say so quite frankly, and tell your Lordships why. In the first place I think it is difficult to argue from one of these nationalization Bills to another. Circumstances are so different, and the histories are so different, that it by no means follows that what was right and appropriate in one is right and appropriate in another.
Take, for instance, the Transport Bill. For years we have had a Railway Rates Tribunal. Everybody who knows what the book of railway rates is like knows that it is a very bulky thing and would take up more than the four pages allowed for our daily papers. The Transport Bill increases the power of that Tribunal—it calls it by a different name—to extend this rate-fixing machinery to roads, and they have to gear in one with the other, an exceedingly complex and difficult task which requires the highest expert skill and knowledge. It was quite right that there should be such a tribunal, notwith- 414 standing that there was something in the nature of consultative councils. In the Civil Aviation Act, from which it is obvious to the reader this clause is closely borrowed, there are no consultative councils, and consequently in that Act it was no doubt quite proper to have this idea of a Tribunal. We have to consider now what is the right course to adopt in the Electricity Bill.
I disclosed my lamentable ignorance of electricity tariffs yesterday, but they are nothing like the complicated and bulky system of railway rates. I conceive that it will be possible in a column of a newspaper to give an intelligent reader an idea of all that the tariff involves him in. If there were any question of publicity in this matter, your Lordships know that I am on wour side completely. I am convinced that full publicity is necessary. But if we are to adopt the procedure or t-lined in this clause, we shall have a hopeless duplication of the work of tie Tribunal and of the consultative councils, so that the consultative councils will be reduced to merely ornamental figures.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount says "They are in any case." That is just what I want to avoid. I want to see the consultative councils have a real job of work to do. I am certain, if you set up this Tribunal, which would do the very work they are called on to do, that the consultative councils would lie back and do nothing and be reduced to ornamental figures.
I am sorry to interrupt but actually according to the Bill, the consultative councils have in their composition no technical people at all; consequently, when grievances are referred to them, they can deal with then only from the layman's point of view. The Electricity Commissioners are individuals who are all technical and understand how tariffs are built up, and are able to go into it from a technical point of view. The consultative councils, as they are to be established under the Bill, will have none of that technical knowledge and will not he able to consider the issue in the way we desire that it shall be considered by the Tribunal that we desire to see set up.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
All I can say is that in Clause 7 it says that half of them are to be appointed from a panel of persons nominated by local authorities—if the local authorities are wise they will nominate people who have a considerable knowledge of electricity—and the other half are to be nominated by the Minister—and, equally, if he is wise, he will appoint people with a good practical knowledge of this subject.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I cannot give way to the noble Viscount again. It does say so in the Bill. If the noble Viscount will look at Clause 7 (2) he will see set out exactly how the consultative councils are to be appointed. I quite agree with him that there is nothing to guarantee that they will have any expert knowledge.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount is assuming that they will not have any expert knowledge. All I say is that they are to be appointed, half from a panel of persons nominated by the local authorities and half by the Minister. They may have—and if the local authorities and the Minister are wise they will have—a good working practical knowledge of this subject. At any rate it will be much more than I have; I will not say more than the noble Viscount has, because he has had experience in these matters.
Let us look now at this proposed tribunal. The Chairman is to be a lawyer. I assure your Lordships (I hope your Lordships know it) that if there is to be such a Tribunal I shall find the best lawyer I can, who is completely removed from Party politics on one side or the other. But, quite frankly, I cannot guarantee to find a lawyer who has an expert knowledge of electricity. Some of them have, but they are very few, and most of those who have are busily engaged in other matters and are in great demand.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount says he does not want him to have expert knowledge. If I may say so, I agree with him. I want this Chairman to have a trained mind, but not an electrically trained mind. Let us consider the position of the Central Authority. The important function of the Central Authority, as I see it, is to make both ends meet—taking one year with another, I agree. I think that is in Clause 36. That is their responsibility, and it is a very great responsibility. They are supreme in that matter. They can fix the tariffs of the area boards in this way. If the area boards fix a tariff which does not commend itself to the Central Authority, the Central Authority, if they like, can say, "Change it." I that that is in Clause 37 (5). If the Central Authority are anxious about what the area board are going to do, under subsection (4) they may say: "Before you do anything about this at all you must refer the matter to us." So the Central Authority have a considerable power of control over the area boards.
The Central Authority cannot be controlled, save by the Minister, and then only if the Minister thinks the subject matter is of sufficient national importance. The real control over the Central Authority, as I see it, is public opinion; and public opinion can be focused in two ways. First of all it can be focused by the report which the Central Authority have to make, and, of course, by their accounts, in which they will show whether they are making both ends meet. It is really rather idle to say what the tariff is to be, on the one hand, unless you know what the expenses are to be, on the other. I give you the "one year with another"; you can criticize me on that. But it is fundamental that this concern should pay its way; and the responsibility for seeing that it does pay its way must rest fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the Central Authority—not upon any Tribunal. There we should put it.
What are the other matters? I am not quite clear whether this Amendment means to deal with the price which the Central Authority charge the area boards, 417 or merely with the tariffs which the area boards charge the public. It is a little defective in drafting, but that can easily be put right. I am not quite certain whether the one or the other is meant. If it is meant to control the price which the Central Authority fix to the area boards, then I say that if by an Act of Parliament you have placed upon the Central Authority the obligation and the duty to make both ends meet, it is unwise to interpose any sort of Tribunal—no matter what its powers may be—to deliberate upon the charges which the Central Authority think fit to charge.
So much for that. For the rest, it is suggested that the Tribunal should consider questions of undue preference. Undue preference is dealt with in two places in this Bill. On page 3, at line 19, you get the statement that no Electricity Board is to allow undue preference. You get it more specifically at page 56, line 39, where it says:An area board, in fixing tariffs and making agreements under this section, shall not show undue preference …If they do show undue preference, anybody has these two rights. First of all, so far as an area board is concerned, you can carry your complaint to the Central Authority and the Central Authority can give the area board the necessary instructions to stop this undesirable practice. But if you like, in that case—and certainly in the case of the Central Authority—you can go to the courts and get an injunction or declaration to prevent undue preference, which is expressly prohibited in the Bill, being shown. I may be old fashioned in this respect, but I would rather retain the right to go to the courts and let the courts deal with the question of undue preference.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then we get the question of supply of electricity to railways, upon which this Tribunal is going to act. If your Lordships will look at page 68, line 36, you will see these words:The terms and conditions on which electricity is supplied by an Electricity Board to any railway undertakers … shall be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Minister and the Minister of Transport jointly…418 I say, with the greatest respect, that fiat being there, what on earth is the good of giving this Tribunal the right to decide what shall be charged to the railways? What is this Tribunal? After all is said and done, once this Tribunal have sat and heard arguments and then deliberated, what can they do? According to the. Amendment as drawn, they report to the. Minister; they are merely advisers.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Not in this matter. If the noble and learned Viscount will look at it he will see that they hove to approve two things: the maxim am tariff for each area and the supply of electricity to railways.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This is. the dilemma which I put. If the Tribunal are to be merely advisory I cannot think of an instance where a Tribunal has been set up and had conferred on them merely advisory powers. If they are to have real powers to fix rates and not mealy advisory powers, then I say that right course is to have those provisions in this Bill which leaves it to the Minister. Let us consider for a moment the position of the consultative committees. The consultative committees under this scheme. can consider any individual complain—indeed it is part of their duty. They can bring those individual complaints first all to the area board, and if they do not get satisfaction from the area board they can bring them to the Central Authority. If they do not get satisfaction from the Central Authority they can bring the complaints to the Minister himself. And do your Lordships suppose, in this democratic country of ours, that when all those steps are being taken there is not going to be focused upon this matter-sufficient public attention to enable Parliament to deal with it?
My objection to the Amendment is this. Under the Bill there you will have set up. an elaborate system of consultative councils and local committees to examine complaints about tariffs. You have the power of the Central Authority to examine and. control the tariffs of area boards. You have the Minister, with his power to give directions to the Central Authority. Therefore you have a regular hierarchy in this scheme and you have ample safeguards for that publicity which both and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, desire, and which in the long run is cur real safeguard in this matter. To set up, 419 in addition to all these things, this body, whether it be advisory or whether it be more than advisory, seems to me a complete illustration of "crossing the wires." I believe it would do harm; I believe it would merely remove from the consultative councils and the local committees the obligation which the Statute has placed upon them. They might well say to themselves, "We need not bother about these things, this Tribunal is going to do it." I believe that by multiplying your safeguards, you would weaken them. We have here the elaborate machine of the consultative councils and the local committees, and I think we had much better leave it to these bodies to see that individual cases of hardship are properly dealt with. We shall achieve that better by the method of the Bill than by adopting the method proposed by this new clause.
Therefore I very much regret to say—although I fully appreciate that noble Lords feel strongly about this matter and although I quite realize the case for that which they propose—that I cannot see that by the acceptance of this Amendment we should really increase the safeguards to the consumer. I regret very much that I cannot accept it, and I cannot go any part of the way with noble Lords.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The Lord Chancellor has answered so fully and frankly and, from his point of view, so fairly, that, feeling very strongly (as he appreciates we do) on this matter, and that it is one on which there is a genuine division of opinion, I would like to say a word or two in answer to what he has said before we take a decision on it. I would not like there to be any misunderstanding when we took our decision. I do not want to detract from the work of the consultative councils. I hope they will do good work under this Bill when it becomes an Act, and I hope they will do good work under the Transport Bill when that becomes an Act. But when the noble and learned Viscount says that you really cannot take into account what is done in one Bill when you come to consider another, the answer is that the whole subject is essentially germane because it is in each case the nationalization of a great monopoly. I am not merely making a dialectical point when I say that if the introduction in the Transport Bill of a Tribunal with complete jurisdiction over 420 charges of rail and road transport is not going to interfere with the usefulness and the operation of the consultative councils in transport, how can it be said that the introduction of a Tribunal here is going to interfere with the usefulness of the consultative councils?
The noble and learned Viscount said: "You really ought not to do this because the decision must rest with the Central Authority, because your Lordships have agreed that this business has got to pay its way." All businesses have got to pay their way, whether nationalized businesses or others. If other businesses do not pay their way, they go to Carey Street; if a national undertaking does not pay its way it goes, I suppose, to "Queer Street"—I do not know where else it goes. Every statutory undertaker which has been established in this country has had to pay its way; even a concern like the hydro-electric concern, Of which one noble Lord is both an ornament and a working member, has to pay its way, but that has not prevented the Electricity Commissioners for the last twenty years giving complete satisfaction as between the public and these different undertakers.
The Commissioners have realized, on the one hand, the right of the public to a fair deal and, on the other, the obligation of all those undertakers to pay their way; they have never had the least difficulty in reconciling these two. In the days when the Lord Chancellor practised before the Railway and Canal Commission with great success, and both railway and traders sought to retain his services, the Railway and Canal Commission never had the least difficulty in giving wise decisions, although in those days the railways had to pay their way. Indeed, the whole basis of these Tribunals is that on the one side they should look at what the undertaking has to earn, provided that it is efficiently managed and, on the other, what it is fair that the consumer should be charged. Incidentally, if I remember aright, the Railway Rates Tribunal have always had to see that the railways were efficiently managed. They always had to reconcile what is necessary for the undertaking to pay its way and what it is fair that the consumer should be charged.
The next argument of the Lord Chancellor was that electricity was a very 421 complex business, and that it was impossible to find three people who could discharge this duty. One of them is to be a good lawyer. I really do not want him to be an expert in electricity; I would be most happy that any great case that had to come to receive a final judgment in a company in which all my fortune was engaged should come to the highest tribunal of the land, here, with the Lord Chancellor himself sitting on the Woolsack. He would not have a great specialized knowledge—thank God he would not!, because then he would not have any prejudice about the matter. I know nothing worse than to have a Chairman of a Tribunal who knows a bit about the subject; he is a dreadful fellow. Why some of us are sometimes chosen to act as arbitrators—why the Lord Chancellor and Viscount Simon have been very great Judges, is not that they were experts who knew a bit about the matters which they were trying, but because they were great lawyers, men of great good sense and men who could weigh the facts of the case as put before them. That is what you want in the Chairman. You want with him a man who does know about electricity and a man who does know about ordinary practical business.
Now may I reinforce this argument from the Transport Bill itself? The Lord Chancellor—whose argument is usually completely logical, although here, quite frankly, it broke down—told us, on the one hand, "This electricity business is so technical that you ought not to give it to this semi-lay Tribunal to decide; you want a lot of experts." On the other hand, he said, "You do not really need this Tribunal for electricity because an electrical organization is a simple thing compared with a Railway Rates structure; that filled volumes." But observe what he himself has done in dealing with these railway rates. To deal with this much more complex matter, he has set up a Tribunal consisting of one member who shall be a member of legal experience, to be appointed by himself (or by the Lord President in Scotland), and two other members, of whom one shall be a member with experience of business, and one a member with experience of finance. Yet those three people—not one of them in the railways or transport—are to be 422 the supreme Tribunal. I. am not saying that it is not a good thing; I think it is a good thing. That, on the Government's own proposal, is to be the Tribunal which have to decide all the questions of charges over railways and over road transport.
May I just deal with one point which the Lord Chancellor raised? He said the Tribunal are only to be consultative. They are not. They are to be consultative in the sense of making a recommendation on the individual appeal, but they are to have absolute jurisdiction over the prices to be charged to railways. I do not attach vital importance to that. It is not a thing to laugh away or just wave away, been se the experience of Parliament has been it at it was wise, even with the Central Electricity Board (which was a semi-Government undertaking and was the bulk distributor—and I think a Labour Government were in power at the time) to decide that the Electricity Commissioners should fix a price which the Central Electricity Board charged railways for their current. But that is not the point to which I attach great importance.
The thing to which I attach great importance is the maximum tariff. The Lord Chancellor did not begin to answer that. It is the maximum tariff which counts, and it is the right to challenge the maximum tariff that matters; and hitherto that has been the ark of the Covenant in these matters. The Electricity Commissioners have had the absolute right to fix the maximum tariff which can be charged, either by a company or by a local authority. It is supremely and utterly wrong that either the Ministry or the Central Authority should have that absolute right. If they have that right, then the consumer has absolutely no protection. From the first days of electricity till now, through every development, there has been one thing to which Parliament has adhered with absolute tenacity; and that is that an independent judical authority shall fix the maximum tariff. That is the essential thing in this Amendment, and by that, my Lords, we must stand.
§ On Question, Whether the proposed new clause be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-Contents, 11423
|Cholmondeley, M.||Elibank, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Grenfell, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Simon, V.||Hatherton, L. [Teller.]|
|De La Warr, E.||Swinton, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Lloyd, L.|
|Howe, E.||Ailwyn, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.||Rennell, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Rochdale, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Teynham, L.|
|De Saumarez, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Digby, L.|
|Jowitt, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Ammon, L.||Marley, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Morrison, L. [Teller.]|
|Addison, V.||Henderson L. [Teller.]||Piercy, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Walkden, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clauses 58 to 61 agreed to.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Clause 62 [Provisions as to regulations and orders]:
§ LORD CHORLEY
This is a series of drafting Amendments which, with your Lordships' consent, I will take together. In each case they add "or order" to "regulations" which makes the term rather wider. I beg to move.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 81, line 20, after the first ("regulations") insert ("or orders")
§ Page 81, line 20, after the second ("regulations") insert ("or orders")
§ Page 81, line 22, after ("regulations") insert ("or orders").—(Lord Chorley.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ LORD CHORLEY
The next two Amendments deal with rather a different point. Subsection (1) of the clause sets out certain additional matters which may be provided for in regulations in relation to procedure and evidence. As the clause was drafted, it was objected in another place that it was a little too wide. The Solicitor-General gave an undertaking that the matter would be looked at again, and this Amendment was tabled in the light of that undertaking. In place of "as to evidence for that purpose" is inserted "as to the mode of proof of any matters and provision," which your Lordships will appreciate is rather tighter and is possibly safer. I beg to move.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 81, line 22, leave out ("and as to evidence for that purpose")424
§ Page 81, line 26, after ("provision") insert ("as to the mode of proof of any matters and provision").—(Lord Chorley.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 81, line 33, after ("regulations") insert ("or orders");
§ Page 81, line 34, after ("regulations") insert ("or orders").—(Lord Chorley.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 62, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 63 and 64 agreed to.
§ Clause 65: