HL Deb 19 February 1957 vol 201 cc985-7

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider, or cause the Central Electricity Authority to reconsider, the policy whereby consumers are called upon to pay excess charges for electricity when the supply line to point of use has to take a more expensive route because of military requirements, as in the case of the supply to four small-holdings at Ascott in the county of Oxfordshire.]


My Lords, in any particular case, such as that referred to by the noble Lord, if persons requiring a supply of electricity are not satisfied about the fairness of the area electricity board's proposals, it is open to them to make representations to the area electricity consultative council which is the independent statutory body appointed by the Minister to represent the interests of consumers; and that council, if it thinks fit, can in turn make representations to the Central Electricity Authority and ultimately to the Minister. Speaking generally, however, I should say that there are many requirements besides those of military authorities which often lead to the adoption of a more expensive route for an electricity supply line: for example, the requirements of local planning authorities, amenity organisations and landowners; and. I do not think it would be justifiable to single costs for special treatment additional costs arising from military requirements.


My Lords, will the noble Lord accept my grateful thanks for the fullness of his reply? I take courage from his concluding remarks. Would be not agree that any extra or excess charge arising from any cause of the kind to which he referred in his concluding remarks should be borne by the over-riding price structure of this monopoly? And would he not further agree that, unless this policy is adopted, the charges for electrification of the rural areas of this country will result in undue hardship falling on the shoulders of land workers and smallholders, usually people of modest means?


I would not dissent from the noble Lord's contention that in general the cost of rural electrification should fall on the whole body of consumers. But this is a specific instance where an aerodrome had got there first, and in consequence a more expensive route had to be adopted. I do not think it quite comes within the definition given by the noble Lord. I would suggest that this case should be dealt with locally between the area board, the county council and the consultative council. The consultative council are there to advise consumers quit to protect their interests, and I am quite sure that this particular matter could be settled in that way.


My Lords, if, as I understand, the route has been lengthened for the convenience of the military authorities, surely the civilian taxpayer should not pay in the form of an increased price for his power.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, there are many things in life which we should like to do and for which we may think we should not be charged. But in this case something has got there first and therefore we cannot just cut across it. Obviously, that principle must be taken into account.


In view of the interesting opinion just expressed by the noble Lord, I hope that the representative of the Minister of Agriculture is listening with both ears open, for I feel certain that if a case of fie kind which is cited here were repeated in any way elsewhere, small people who have to farm land would be very much injured by such a definition as would seem to arise from the opinion expressed. I hope that the Minister will consent to have a talk with the Minister of Agriculture about this particular matter, if he has not already done so—I am not suggesting that he may not have done so—and that he will keep in touch with the Minister of Agriculture, because one set of agricultural producers ought not to be put in a worse position than others as a result of the length of route occasioned by an obstacle which has been placed by State developments.


I seize with alacrity upon the noble Lord's acceptance in principle of my suggestion that this should be an overall charge and upon the principle that "a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse," I am now quite prepared to leave this matter between the area board, the local authority and the consultative council.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether the existence of a military requirement, which is a matter of national safety, is not just as important an obstacle as, say, an arm of the sea or any other natural feature?


My Lords. I believe I have already made that clear in my previous reply.

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