HL Deb 04 March 1954 vol 186 cc174-6

5.26 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this, I hope, is a simpler matter than some with which we have been dealing. The ultimate object of this Bill is precisely the same as that of the gas and transport regulations which we have had before us to-day, to enable the Minister to make grants to the electricity boards towards the provision of works to enable them to function in the event of air attack. Your Lordships will wonder why, in the case of electricity, a Bill is necessary. There by hangs a very interesting legal tale. In regard to the other utilities, powers given in the Civil Defence Act, 1939, are being revived through the authority of the Act of 1948. The snag here is that electricity had a special section to itself in the Act of 1939, Section 42, which gives powers to the Central Electricity Board to act with the approval of the Electricity Commissioners and to be reimbursed by grant.

When the electricity industry was nationalised, Section 42 of the Act of 1939 was repealed. For some time there was doubt in legal minds as to whether or not the very wide powers given in the Act of 1948 to revive the Act of 1939 from its suspension in 1945 and to amend it to keep in step with the passage of time made it possible to deal with electricity in the same way as with gas. After a good deal of thought, it was decided that a Bill was required. If the Bill is passed, regulations will immediately be laid on the lines of those for the gas industry. Your Lordships will note that, by reviving the Act of 1939, the rate of grant stands to be 50 per cent., as provided in the Act, but the regulations will provide in due course for 52¾ per cent., as in the case of gas. The type of equipment it is intended to be provided is largely spare switch-gear, and we shall have, in due course, an opportunity of debating the regulations which will be laid if this Bill is passed. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2.—(Lord Hawke.)

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, here again the noble Lord, Lord Hawke—I am sorry to raise the point again—skilfully dodges the question of delay. I have just been reading the Report of the Select Committee which refers to this question of so-called legal difficulties, which seem to me to be simple. They have been overcome by the present Bill. I quote now from the OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons, Vol. 523 (No. 52), col. 1465), which states: Your Committee were perturbed to discover that difficulties had arisen over the grant regulations which have to be made before the industries can be reimbursed. The undertakings are reluctant to incur very substantial capital expenditure until they are assured that the can be reimbursed, and Your Committee find it incomprehensible that in the five years since the passing of the Act, the Department concerned have not been able to find a solution to the legal difficulties. That solution, which one would have thought would be perfectly simple for the legal authorities to discover, is contained in the present Bill before your Lordships' House. It must seem incomprehensible also to your Lordships that a simple Bill like this should not have been presented some years ago.

I gather from what the noble Lord says that regulations in a similar form to those that we have discussed in connection with other industries will be presented in due course, so it is clear that we have not finished with the various regulations which are necessary to carry out the purposes of the Civil Defence Act, 1948. The noble Lord has not said how long we shall have to wait. I hope we shall not have to wait two and a half years, or something of that sort, for them, but that we may have them at an early date while we have the matter in mind, and that in connection not only with this provision, which deals particularly with electricity undertakings, but also with all the regulations we have had before us to-day—gas, police and transport—steps will be taken by the appropriate authorities. supervised, as we hope, by the Government, to do what is necessary to ensure the due function of all these industries in the event of hostile attack. Whilst we must all hope that that necessity will not arise, the Government will bear a heavy responsibility, especially after the helpful response which the present regulations have received, if delay takes place and they do not ensure that these various industries take the necessary steps to put their house in order and to provide for such a contingency. We support the Second Reading of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.