HL Deb 13 May 1959 vol 216 cc415-42

6.9 p.m.


rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to suspend the operation of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (Construction Scheme No. 28) Confirmation Order. 1959, pending the agreement of a satisfactory scheme for the preservation of the beauties of Ben Cruachan and the neighbourhood. The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I think it would be charitable, in the light of the discussion which has been going on earlier this afternoon, if I could leave it at that; but this is an important matter and I think it requires some explanation. I feel a little diffident, or possibly a little surprised at my hardihood, in broaching a subject concerned with the interests of Scotland, because one appreciates that there is a certain amount of feeling in cases where Sassenachs intervene, and I did delay some time in the hope that one of those Members of your Lordships' House who are sensitive about damage to the beauties of the Highlands would have taken up the matter. There are, of course, many such, and I happen to know that several of those who are most keenly interested are abroad at the moment.

Eventually I decided that, as time was getting on, if the matter were to be debated I had better put down some sort of Motion or Question about it. Indeed, I suggest that the beauties of the West Highlands, which are unsurpassed in any part of the world, are the common heritage, not only of all the peoples of these islands but of humanity as a whole. I myself have had the enormous satisfaction of spending some of the happiest hours of my life climbing about in the mountains of the West Highlands, and on the very mountains which are endangered by this scheme. I feel, therefore, that to that extent, at any rate, I am qualified to bring this matter to the attention of your Lordships.

Your Lordships will have observed that I have rather modified the original approach to this matter, in that I have changed what started as a Motion for the annulment of the Order for the Loch Awe scheme into a Question. I did that for various reasons. It was suggested to me that it was not altogether satisfactory to move for the annulment of an important Order of this kind; that it was not altogether satisfactory that that should be done in your Lordships' House. I was not altogether insensitive to that argument. Indeed, I was the more willing to put the matter into the form of a Question so that we might have a discussion, perhaps lively, but based on good will, because, on the whole, the history of the hydro-electric schemes in the Highlands has been one of good will on the part of the authorities towards those who are so sensitive for the protection of natural beauty. It seemed to me that it was right that the Government spokesman should be given an opportunity of representing the Government's views, at any rate before one came to a decision as to whether one would try to get this scheme annulled.

There have been more than one of these schemes in which the arrangements for the protection of the natural beauties of the situation have been very successful. The Glen Affric scheme, for example, while not 100 per cent. successful in safeguarding an exceptionally lovely piece of country, has on the whole been well done. The Loch Tummel scheme was not so well done, and the one on Loch Lomond, the Loch Sloy scheme, has, I am afraid, made a dreadful mess of what were once "the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond". So the record of authority is rather like the curate's egg which was referred to by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack a few moments ago—it is excellent in parts, and not so good in other parts. I could perhaps at this stage express my personal thanks and, I am sure, the thanks of the House, to the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, for having put the photographs and map of the scheme in the Royal Gallery so that we might have the opportunity of looking at them this afternoon.

This particular scheme of Loch Awe is really in three independent sections. The section with which I am particularly concerned this evening, and which seems to me to be the one which is a danger to the beauties of the Western Highlands, is the Ben Cruachan section, which provides for the first large-scale pump storage works in Scotland. It is proposed to use the surplus of electricity which is not used up during the night for the purpose of reinforcing the supply of electricity required at the peak period. Therefore the scheme works in this way: electricity is used during the night to pump up water to a high level in one of the corries in Bert Cruachan, where it can be let down during the daytime, when required, in order to make further electricity which can be put into the grid.

These schemes, of course, are not possible except in exceptional parts of the country. We have already discussed one in North Wales, and this particular one, I submit, is highly objectionable because it entails the building of a new reservoir in a particularly fine corrie, perhaps the finest of all the corries of Ben Cruachan, which is certainly one of the finest mountains in all the Western Highlands. This particular corrie provides water for the lovely waterfall, the Falls of Cruachan themselves, and the difficulty is, of course, that as the water is let out of a storage reservoir of this kind by day, the mud and rocks which have been covered up are exposed. It is a particularly desolate sight, and one which anybody who has seen a reservoir which has had the water run out of it must agree is a particularly unpleasant spectacle. That that should occur at this very sensitive part of the Western Highlands seems to me to be altogether deplorable. It is above the Pass of Brander, which is famous in Scottish history, literature and song; and I am sure that all over the world, wherever Scots come together, the Pass of Brander is known, and there must be a good deal of fear lest this superb piece of natural scenery be destroyed in this way.

It is dangerous also because this may well be the forerunner of other schemes in the Western Highlands and in Wales, and possibly in the Lake District and the other beautiful mountainous country of England. It is, of course, only in mountainous country with lakes and corries that this type of scheme can be carried through. It is not a question of actually producing any new electricity. All that we are doing is to utilise the electricity which has already been produced. This is not really a hydro-electric scheme in the ordinary way at all. It is not going to produce new electricity, but is simply to use up, perhaps in a more fruitful way, electricity which has already been produced; but the total saving by this sort of scheme is very small indeed. In The Times newspaper of March 31, when there was a discussion of this particular scheme, it was said that schemes of this kind, because of the obvious limitations which the natural conditions place upon them, cannot produce more than a few thousand megawatts.

It seems to me wrong that the enormous social values Which these superbly beautiful places have should be lost far the sake of saving a few thousand megawatts of electricity in this way. Even at the best of times these hydro-electric schemes are not especially fruitful. Production is comparatively small. The total production of all the hydro-electric schemes in the British Isles is only about 2 per cent. of the total electricity that is produced; the remaining 98 per cent., of course, being produced by the steam process from coal. One would think, from all that one has heard about the hydroelectric schemes in the Highlands, that their contribution to the electrical energy produced in the country was very high. That is not so, and it is rather doubtful whether, from the strictly economical point of view, these schemes are really justifiable.

I had an interesting letter from a Member of your Lordships' House who is particularly well qualified to speak on all these scientific problems, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who regretted very much that he could not come this afternoon, to take part in this discussion. I should like to quote a passage from the letter in which he says that the general impression that he gets of many of these Scottish hydro-electric schemes is that they are pitiful little contributions which lay waste beautiful scenery without having the slightest effect on the wellbeing of the country as a whole. The Kerry Falls, at the end of Loch Maree, were one of the natural beauties of the district. They have been completely ruined to provide what he calls a "pint-sized power station". He goes on: As for the devastation at the head of Loch Garry and Loch Quaich, it is exactly as if some hater of God and all His works had let loose the dynamite. In some other cases I think myself that they have been carried through more successfully and have added to the amenities of the country, and even if here and there they have involved possibly some slight sacrifice of the beauties of the district, we who have worked in this movement for the protection of the natural beauties of the British Isles have been prepared to put up with some sacrifice in order to provide higher standards of living for the people in the Highlands. All that we ask is that these schemes should not be pushed to this sort of extreme, and that superb mountains like Ben Cruachan should not, in effect, be destroyed as a result of the establishment of new reservoirs of this kind which are bound to be eyesores when the water has run out.

My Lords, the British people are a peculiar people. They have the finest natural scenery, or some of the finest natural scenery, in the world. Their culture, from the point of view of their poetry and their painting, has been more dependent on the scenic beauty of their countryside than that, I suppose, of any other of the great artistic nations of the world. They have been prepared from time to time to listen to their great poetical seers like Wordsworth, who fought almost single-handed against the introduction of the railway system in the Lake District, and fought successfully. We honour those of our great men, like Professor Trevelyan, who have devoted years of their lives to the work of the National Trust, by giving him the highest award, the Order of Merit. We confer knighthoods on the secretaries of organisations like the Commons Society and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. And yet here we are, in the most beautiful and sensitive part of the Western Highlands prepared to desecrate one of the most lovely mountains in the whole of that superbly beautiful district for the sake of a few thousand megawatts of electricity.

I do hope that, as a result of expressions of opinion in your Lordships' House, this particular part of the scheme, which could be cut out of the scheme without destroying it as a whole, and leaving it in substance, I suggest, very much as it is, might well be cut out. I feel that if your Lordships would indicate to the Authority, by the views expressed in this debate, that you would like to see this done, perhaps we should not have spoken in vain this afternoon in discussing this scheme. I beg to ask the Question on the Order Paper.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I make no apology for intervening in this debate. My reason for doing so is that I was the unfortunate first Chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, and therefore I know a little about it. In those days we had a very hot time. There was a great deal of criticism and feelings ran high. I can remember being cut in my own club in Edinburgh because it was thought that I was spoiling the amenities of Scotland. I have since visited the seats of my misdemeanours, and, far from being ashamed of those schemes, I am rather proud. It has given me a good deal of feeling of personal satisfaction to think that, although they do not know who I am, old ladies lift their nightdresses and warm their posteriors before they slip into bed, and I am glad to think that perhaps I have had a hand in warming those posteriors.

I keep closely in touch with the work of the Hydro-Electric Board because I am very jealous of their reputation. I must join issue with the noble Lord who has just spoken. I cannot admit that the country has been desecrated; I do not believe it has. I live there, and I live there in winter quite often, and I know that the comfort that has been brought to many people far outweighs any desecration of the country, which I hope has not spoiled the noble Lord's holiday. I am really rather surprised that, speaking from those Benches, he cannot consider the comfort of the people in general.


My Lords, the noble Earl must have prepared his speech without listening to what I said, because I particularly said that in a number of those cases they had been successful on the whole.


But I am joining issue with that; I think that in most cases they have been successful and they have done a great deal of good. If you are going to cut out the heart of a scheme—I am not on the Board now so I am not speaking with any interest—you are going to undo the good which we are trying to do to look after the people of the country. I am very jealous of the reputation of the Hydro-Electric Board, and they care a great deal about amenity. I can assure the noble Lord that his apprehensions are really groundless. I should like to point out also that there is an Amenity Committee set up under the Act, which looks after all these cases. They have not complained about the desecration of amenity, nor have the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland. There are many societies which are watching these cases and they have not grumbled.

I am given to understand that the Amenity Committee watched this matter as closely as ever, and they will continue to do so; there are many permanent officials in that set-up who were there with me and who were brought up most strictly to look after the amenities of the country; and if there is any criticism to be levelled against them I would say that it is that an awful lot of money is spent in maintaining the amenities of the country. I agree that it is right that it should be so, but a great deal of money has been spent in order to preserve these amenities. I feel that the noble Lord's fears are groundless and his apprehensions unnecessary.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, I think I had better declare an interest as coming from Scotland although I work now in England. I do not wish to enter into debate with the noble Earl who has just spoken, but I should like to raise one or two general matters of policy in regard to this question. We all agree that our country is a really beautiful country. The more one travels about the world the more one realise that there is so much of loveliness here, held in a very small compass. But, with a curious irrationality, the people of this country both cherish and spoil the country. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, large tracts of this country have been despoiled by the industrial pursuits of man. We must ask ourselves how far we are going to allow that to proceed.

I have lived and worked all my days in the industrial areas of this country—Clydeside, Tyneside and the West Riding of Yorkshire. On one's travels one sometimes pauses on a ridge and looks over the landscape and tries to picture it as it looked a couple of hundred years ago, before industry was let loose upon it. lt is altogether a rather sad thought. I share the concern of the noble Earl who has just spoken for the welfare of ordinary folk, and I am deeply concerned about the welfare of future generations of our urban population if we are not going to have some kind of controlled policy in regard to the preservation of the rare and natural beauty of our own country. We have been very destructive in the past. I know it is true that many who are responsible for industry to-day have a real concern for the amenities of our country, such as perhaps their predecessors had not; but still, we are liable to take rather short views and look for quick returns, and to hope that future generations will, somehow or other, be able to take care of themselves. I am not so sure that they can. It is very easy to despoil, but it is difficult to restore. I think that nowadays we are faced with a real dilemma with regard to the life of our country.

There is a second thought to which I think we should give more attention. One goes about the Continent of Europe and realises that there are some countries, most of them not as beautiful as our own, where the landscape has proved to be an economic asset of great and fluid value. In these days of international travel on a large and ever-increasing scale, holidays with pay, and so on, we ought to recognise that, for reasons of pleasure and happiness, the beauty of our country is a rare possession. But there is none too much of it. A great deal of it has been destroyed beyond restoration. While I realise that care is taken in regard to hydro-electric schemes, I am inclined to disagree that they enhance the beauty of our country as a whole. If we allow them to spread rather too widely we are going to deprive ourselves of some of our rarest landscapes such as will give pleasure and recreation and spiritual health to future generations yet to come.

I believe, therefore, that we should not think purely economically but also culturally when we ask ourselves what kind of policy we are going to adopt in future in regard to what remains of this rare heritage of ours in this country. It is not for me, as an amateur, to plunge into technical and industrial questions, although I have lived in that sort of atmosphere most of my life, but I would ask—and something about which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke reinforces the question—are these rather expensive schemes for producing a somewhat limited amount of electric power the most fruitful way of spending our resources? I remember not long ago a distinguished Swiss engineer saying to me that the capital cost of producing electricity from water power in this country, or indeed in his own country where there is far more water power, was greater than from the use of coal.

I live and work in a part of the country where we are well aware of the growing recession in the coal industry. I think that the men are beginning to realise that within the next twenty-five, thirty or fifty years atomic energy is going to be the main source of power in this country. Therefore, we have to face the possibility of a big recession in our major basic industry. During this intervening period, cannot we concentrate our policy for increasing electrical power on the use of coal rather than on developing schemes which will bring power to certain points of the country while also, in the long run, doing a great deal to reduce their attractive value to those who come out from urban areas to seek the solace of the country? It is all a question of degree and balance, as I quite understand. It is so easy, I think, for the balance to be tipped on the side of a quick return in terms of production and power, and to lose sight of the long-term view that the preservation of the unique beauty of our unique country has not only a cultural but also an economic value. It is not the economic value to which I ask your Lordships to give most attention in regard to what I am saying, but there is a political as well as a spiritual wisdom in the sentence of the psalmist, which no doubt sprang out of his own personal experiences: The mountains shall bring peace and the little hills righteousness to a people.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise in advance for the fact that one or two of my remarks may not be strictly on the subject as it now stands in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, but I believe that this is the only chance that we have to express our views on the Loch Awe Hydro-Electric Scheme and, as probably I drive along that road more often than most of your Lordships, I should like to say a few words on it. First, I should like to say that I know that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board have done all in their power to mitigate the effects of the proposed scheme on the fishing and other amenity interests, by providing a certain amount of compensation water; in fact, I believe that they are going to provide in compensation water almost as great a flow as the flow for two months last summer.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has dealt fully with the effects that the scheme will have on the beauty of what is undoubtedly one of the show pieces of the Highlands. While I agree with him that these effects will certainly be considerable while the scheme is under construction, if other schemes are anything to go by I feel that when it is finally completed its effect on the beauty and amenity of the district will about be cancelled out. I would, however, ask whether it is really a good thing to spend £24½ million on a scheme which will take about eight years to complete—although possibly my noble friend Lord Forbes may not agree with me on that—and which will probably be outdated fairly soon, say twelve years or so after it is finished.

I am fully aware that at the moment atomic power stations can operate only at an even rate, and that therefore what might be described as "boosters" are used during peak periods; and it is intended that the Loch Awe scheme should act as one of these. It seems not improbable, however, that in twenty years' time, such is the march of science, this snag will have been overcome; and before a hydro-electric scheme of this cost can begin to pay it must have a long and useful life. I should have thought, therefore, that it would certainly have been cheaper and quicker, and would have avoided the attendant snags, to build a coal and steam power station of equal capacity. As a sideline, it would also use up some of the surplus coal.

There are other difficulties which I feel might arise with the scheme, particularly concerning the road from Dalmally to Oban which runs alongside Loch Awe. At the moment it takes forty minutes to drive from Dalmally to Oban. I have no doubt that when the hydro-electric board have made their diversions and finished their scheme, that journey will also take about forty minutes; but during the period when the dam is under construction they may block the road completely, although they say in the White Paper that they will not. Equally, they said in the White Paper that the Kinlochhoun road would not be affected when they were doing the Loch Quaich scheme, and yet I believe they flooded the old bridge of Quaich several weeks before the new bridge was completed, and Kinlochhoun was therefore completely cut off from the outside world.

I know that many of the hoteliers in Oban are worried about the effect that a partial blockage on the main road would have on trade, particularly during the summer months when it is very crowded with charabancs and other tourist traffic. We should therefore like an assurance from the noble Earl that the Hydro-Electric Board will complete all their road diversions before they start blocking the old road with the lorries and other equipment which they will no doubt need.

To sum up, I believe that if it is not well controlled the scheme will interfere with the one practicable road link between a large part of Argyll and the outside world, and that there will be a diminution, especially during the period of construction, of the beauties of Ben Cruachan and the neighbourhood, although probably this will be great only during the period of construction. This is likely to have a serious effect on the prosperity of the neighbourhood, though again only during the period of construction. The main reason why I am personally slightly doubtful about the wisdom of the scheme is that we are spending this very large sum of money on something which I feel the march of science may well have superseded in fifteen or twenty years' time.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, to my mind it is possible that the uneasiness about amenities in connection with this scheme, evidenced by the fact that this debate is taking place, may have sprung from the two years or so that have elapsed since, I understand, the scheme was first put forward and open to objection. I think it is fair to say that this uneasiness exists and that the problem is a very complex one. We have to face the fact, which I believe is the case, that in the generation of electricity by atomic power inevitably units are generated which have to be either used or wasted in terms of heat; and this pumped storage system is the only known method by which such energy can be conserved. It follows that, in order to get the head required for such a scheme, height is required, so that there must be a mountain involved.

Consequently, my feeling is that while this scheme may be, and probably is, economically necessary, we must at the same time face the fact that there must be some measure of interference with the natural beauties of that part of the Highlands. As I have said before in your Lordships House, I sometimes worry lest the electricity boards charge too much for their off-peak load. If only the boards would face up to the need for supplying off-peak load at lower tariffs, then perhaps energy which otherwise would be wasted, if it is not pumped up to Ben Cruachan, could be sold for pit-pumping, space heating and the like, thus avoiding the necessity for a scheme of this kind.

I do not, however, share the view of the noble Duke that this will be out of date so soon, because the great fact about such a scheme is that once the money is spent the actual cost of operation is low, the original outlay being the heaviest cost. If, then, the matter is to be considered from the two angles of economics and amenity, I personally feel that reasonably we need only ask Her Majesty's Government to give us an assurance that a balance is being preserved between these two matters. We are all grateful to the noble Lord the Minister of State, for providing us with the photographs which are now in the Royal Gallery, and I feel that, as a result of our experience of similar schemes of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, we can face the future confident that time will conceal many of the scars. The photographs and the map do not show the run of the transmission lines, of course, and we have to accept that some scars may result from the empty reservoir, visualised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—although one would have to be fairly active to look down upon that!

I feel that these amenity matters are sufficiently important to require great care in the alignment and design of power lines where there is to be this large power station in the middle of the Pass of Brander. Careful safeguards are necessary, for whilst, of course, it is economically impossible to put power lines underground (I can safely say that that is beyond contemplation in terms of cost), there will be many connecting links required between power stations. I myself feel that the power line to-day is not really so big a scar on the landscape as the railway was when it was first cut up that very Pass, and I believe that we shall get used to these things as time goes on. I have met people who say they rather like the look of these power lines. I cannot quite believe that, but I call to mind an occasion where an objection was taken, on the ground of amenity, to a power line in the neighbourhood of Hadrian's Wall. Counsel pointed out that it was possible that in about the year 200 A.D. the inhabitants of North Britain had had their own views about Hadrian building his wall, which might have led to some interference with the amenities of the neighbourhood.

I believe that we shall get more used to power lines, but perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to assure us that every possible step is being taken, and will be taken, to safeguard the alignment of the lines involved and to put them underground where it is possible; and also as regards the design of the pylons. It has to be remembered that, as the years go by, new materials, lighter structures, become possible; and it is conceivable that the type of tower which I understand is accepted throughout the length and breadth of Britain, and is applicable to this part of the country, might quite reasonably, and without additional cost—provided that the design is carefully studied—be altered in order to produce a type of tower which is less offensive (if that is the right word) to the eye.

In other words, my Lords, my contribution to the debate is rather along the lines of the observations with which the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, ended his remarks. Perhaps all we can ask at this stage is that an assurance should be given to us, as I am sure it will be, that every possible step will be taken to secure the beautification, as far as possible, of all the works, including the power lines. One last point. It seems to me, looking at the photographs, that it might be possible to improve the appearance of the works in the Pass of Brander if the barrage were to be placed nearer to the outlet from the Loch. I know that that would have an effect which the owners of the fishing rights would appreciate, though I shall not be surprised if the noble Lord tells me that the cost would be quite out of the question. That is all I have to say, and I look forward to hearing the noble Lord the Minister speak on the subject.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, it is always very pleasant to me, as I am sure it is to other noble Lords who have had the good fortune to be born in Scotland and to be natives of that country, when other noble Lords not so blessed show an interest in our affairs. Therefore, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for having introduced this subject. The noble Lord has expressed just the same fears as have been expressed on so many occasions in connection with the schemes of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I remember very vividly indeed, when the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, was the chairman of the Board, being approached by the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire in another place who told me about the great anxieties that existed as to the beauties of Pitlochry, which were going to be ruined by some nefarious scheme for which the noble Earl was responsible. We prayed against the scheme, and we spoke very sharply on the subject. Two years later my friend came to me and said how very sorry he was that he had induced me to enter into the debate, because he had since discovered that the amenities of Pitlochry had been much improved by the work of the Hydro-Electric Board performed in that vicinity. I have been there many times and I entirely agree.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said that in some cases the actual beauty of the scenery had been improved by the work. It is certainly true—


My Lords, I do not think I said that. I said that the Glen Affric scheme, while not 100 percent. successful in this respect, had, on the whole, safeguarded the position. I do not think I said it made the scenery better.


My Lords, then the noble Lord and I differ. I apologise to the noble Lord if I misinterpreted what he said. I visited Glen Affric before any scheme was started; I visited it while a scheme was under way, and later; and certainly, to my mind, the scenery has in no way suffered, and indeed has benefited, from the work done there. I have had the opportunity during recent years to visit many of the schemes of the Hydro-Electric Board, and I have yet to find one which has in any way been detrimental to the beauties and the scenery in which they are situated. Indeed, many of them have added to the interest of the scenery and have in no way detracted from its natural beauty.

I was rather surprised by some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. He told us about this corrie in Ben Cruachan. I have lived for months at a time under the shadow of Ben Cruachan, and I have climbed the mountain. I would agree with him that if you have a great deal of water running away it does not leave a very nice spectacle, but when one considers the matter from every point of view, I wonder how many people in any year visit that corrie? Very few, I should say. As for doing anything whatsoever to spoil the beauty of the Pass of Brander, I do not understand how that would arise. I do not know whether the noble Lord has looked at the photographs. If he has, he will find difficulty in informing me how that would happen.

The noble Lord said one thing that certainly astonished me. He said that the hydro-schemes had not been fruitful—he was referring, of course, to the amount of electricity produced. But, really, coming from those Benches, a remark of that kind, which seemed to exclude altogether the benefit which has accrued to the people of the Highlands as a result of the Hydro-Electric Board's schemes, was very surprising. There are thousands of people in the Highlands to-day, I would tell the noble Lord, who are grateful to the Hydro Board for what they have done for them. And let me remind him of another thing.


My Lords—


Will the noble Lord allow me to continue? I would remind him that it is not only to produce electricity that the Hydro Board was set up, but to do for the amenities of the Highlands, for the welfare of the people, what could not be done otherwise; and in that it has succeeded to a very great extent. Now the noble Lord may care to speak.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misunderstood what I said. I said that these hydro-electric schemes were not economically very suecessful, and that the electricity costs more and is much more difficult to produce than if it were produced from coal. But I said that we in the amenities movement had been prepared to put up with a certain amount of extra expense and a certain amount of damage to scenery because it did help the standard of living of people in the Highlands. I thought I made that clear.


My Lords, so far as I know the noble Lord is incorrect in his facts. So far as I am aware (perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will inform us whether I am correct), the generation of electricity by hydro-electric power is cheaper than that produced by the most modern steam station in the country at the present day. I believe that to be true, and no doubt my noble friend Lord Forbes will be able to say whether or not I am correct.

The right reverend Prelate really did not speak to the subject of the Question at all. He spoke generally as to the destruction of interests, amenities and beauty, particularly in urban areas—and on that point I would entirely agree with him. But that does not refer to the Hydro-Electric Board and the work they have done. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for the opportunity of speaking on this Question. I feel it gives me a chance to pay credit to the Board for the extraordinary care they have taken in safeguarding the beauties and amenities in the country, and I am glad to pay my tribute to them. Before I sit down, I wonder whether I might ask my noble friend Lord Forbes whether he could tell us just how many objections have been lodged, on amenity grounds, to this Loch Awe scheme.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lard Forbes, will allow me to express a personal view without committing any of my colleagues in this matter. Like many other noble Lords, I feel very strongly about this matter. I do not forget the work which has been put in by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie; or the work which has been put in by Mr. Tom Johnston; or the work which may be put in by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, now that he has taken upon himself the chairmanship of the hydro-electric undertaking. At the same time, I am also aware that a case can be made out for the expansion of electrical energy by some of these new schemes.

In spite of all that, one has the feeling that perhaps we are overdoing things these days in the way of the generation of electricity, in the belief that if we give electrical energy to the people of the Highlands we are thereby raising their standard of living. To a certain extent, but only to a certain extent, that may be true. It is true that a great many houses now have electric light where formerly they had none. It is also true that some of the electricity is being used for industrial purposes. But I am bound to say, if I may express my personal view, that I view with horror the sight of a lovely piece of our country being spoilt. For example, travelling from Helensburgh to Fort William, one sees those awful scars along Loch Trieg which have been there for too many years and which have not yet been covered. Even on the assumption that there may be some commercial advantage from the generation of the power, I say: is it worth while to despoil the beauty of our country by these undertakings? I have the feeling, unfortunately, that this division of opinion exists between those who, if I may say so, perhaps unkindly, are the commercial Philistines to-day and that rather large minority who have a sensitivity about beauty which apparently a large number of people do not possess.

I do not deny the advantages which come from cheap power. I am not so sure that the consumers of electricity in Scotland, or in the Highlands, are getting their power at so reasonable a rate as to justify the adoption of its use to a much greater extent than now: but, apart altogether from that, must we emphasise the need for these things solely on economic or commercial lines? Is there not something which we ought to be prepared to sacrifice in order to retain some of these irreplaceable beauties which we still have in Scotland and which, unfortunately, are being reduced at an increasing rate? It may be that we have already gone too far in our commitments to withdraw from these particular ventures or projects; but I still say that, in spite of all that the Hydro-Electric Board has done to reproduce—I will not say "preserve"—amenities in its operations, the fact still remains that Scotland, and the Highlands in particular, is being defaced by these attempts to modernise the country in the interests of a so-called progressive outlook.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? Has the noble Lord seen the new Barony Pit near Cumnock, and the other new pit at Killoch in Ayrshire, both sunk to produce coal which will eventually produce electricity; and does his heart not bleed for that beautiful part of Ayrshire which is being destroyed, when he compares it with the way that the Hydro-Electric Board has been able to preserve the beauties of the country?


I should express the same regret at the defacement of our country by these unsightly mounds as I do about this particular hydro-electric scheme.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes, could I ask him a question? I always listen to what he says with the greatest interest. If you go to Loch Lomond now, is it not true that you will find there a mass of speedboats, and the like, and that it is almost like Blackpool; and is not that as bad as anything else put there by the Hydro-Electric Board?


I agree, my Lords, and if it were possible to do away with these destructions of the amenities of our country I would certainly lend my own efforts to see that they were stopped. The trouble is that we have far too many of these activities which are spoiling our country; and I, for one, hope that public opinion will rouse itself to see that even projects of this kind, which have a value, are not proceeded with at the pace at which they are being proceeded with to-day.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt continually, but I think sight has been lost of why this Board was set up. It was set up to develop areas which otherwise would not reap the benefit of electricity—the Outer Islands and the far-flung districts. That is why it was set up; and it has undoubtedly brought amenities to people who would otherwise not have been able to receive them.


I would not pretend to deny what the original aims of the promoters of this scheme were, but what I am certain of, and what I think cannot be denied, is that, in their intention to do good to the people of the Highlands, they are destroying an irreplaceable and most valuable asset. That is my point, my Lords. These enthusiastic contractors, who admittedly are trying to assuage the fears of a great many people, are nevertheless doing considerable harm to the beauties of Scotland by these measures, and I, for one, hope that the people of the country will see that some restraint is exercised in these so-called progressive activities.

7.7 p.m


My Lords, I wonder whether I may be permitted to intervene briefly in this debate. I have spent many years of my life in Perthshire. I rarely visit there now, but I did holiday there last summer. I had occasion to visit Pitlochry Dam, which has been mentioned in this debate, and I can say that it is not only a very fine piece of engineering but it has enhanced the prosperity of that particular area tremendously. Pitlochry is now, I would say, one of the most important tourist centres in Scotland, and the number of people who visit that dam is enormous. The dam itself was heavily criticised. It meant the flooding of the surrounding estate, but the panorama has increased in beauty. I visited the Loch before this dam was erected and after it was erected, and, to my mind—and I am very jealous of Scotland's beauties—the beauty of the whole area has been tremendously enhanced.

There is just one other point I should like to raise in connection with the White Paper on the Constructional Scheme No. 28. Section D in the additional recommendation says: The Board shall pay for such traditional Watchers as may be required during and after the construction of the works, and shall provide suitable accommodation for them. I would ask the noble Lord whether he can say how many watchers will be, needed, what their duties will be, and how they will be housed. It seems to me that temporary housing on a large scheme can blot the landscape far more than the scheme itself. I think that your Lordships' House should be assured that these houses will be built with deference to the scenic nature of the neighbourhood and bearing in mind that something like five men operate the whole of the Pitlochry scheme, both technically and in guarding the plant. Finally, I should like to say that the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board, despite all the criticisms which have been levelled against them, have performed a job of which Britain and the world can be proud.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to intervene for only two moments because for about five days sat on the Select Committee of this House on the Blaenau Festiniog scheme in North Wales, which was the first pumped water scheme in this country. This is entirely new to this country, although such schemes have been in operation for some time in Switzerland. The water runs down from the top reservoir during the day and is pumped up at night time with the surplus power from the atomic or coal station, and it has been proved conclusively that it saves a great deal of capital in our not having to build another station, in view of the short peak period in this country during the day-time.

Neither in North Wales nor in Scotland are the mountains very high, and therefore the pressure of water is not great, and such a scheme uses a large volume which otherwise would run out to sea and not be used again. On the North Wales scheme, we went into the question of amenity at great length, because this scheme is very near the Snowdonia National Park, We were satisfied that the top reservoir did not completely drain into the lower one during the day, although the level was lowered a good deal, and the pumping plant was placed in such a position that it could not be seen very much. I have not seen the area of the Ben Cruachan scheme, but I do not think that it is likely to do much damage to the surrounding amenities. It is important that we should get as much power as we possibly can, and water power runs a little cheaper than coal power, even to-day, allowing for the pretty high price of coal. This scheme is important for Scotland, because the availability of electric power has given tremendous benefit to the Highlanders and also to the important industrial belt in the Glasgow area and the South West.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, many noble Lords have spoken at considerable length on this subject, so perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I go into the matter fairly fully. A short time ago we were discussing deer in Scotland. I think that if your Lordships shoot as wide of the mark at deer as you have been shooting at the Loch Awe scheme, the deer in Scotland have a very good chance in future. I am glad to be able to answer the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who straight away began belittling the Loch Awe scheme. I really could not follow him when he said that this scheme, which is going to produce 12 per cent. of Scotland's electricity, is a small scheme.

I am sure your Lordships are already aware that very great care is given to the preparation and consideration of all hydroelectric schemes. That is as it should be. Your Lordships will also appreciate that with almost any hydro-electric scheme there are bound to be conflicting interests. On the one hand, it is plain that we cannot have hydro-electric schemes at all without disturbing the natural topography to some extent; and that to many people is essentially disquieting because, quite rightly, they have, as I myself have, a deep-rooted affection for the natural beauty of our land and wish to preserve it. On the other hand, hydro-electric schemes are an extremely important means of providing the power on which our economy depends. That is why the procedure through which these schemes have to go has been designed to ensure the fullest consideration of all aspects, together with the views of all the interests concerned; and, as I shall show, special obligations are placed on the Board for the preservation of the beauty of the scenery.

The procedure laid down by the Hydro-Electric Development Act of 1943 is, I consider, quite exacting. Perhaps your Lordships would like me to give you a short account of this procedure. I believe that it may allay some of the fears that were in the mind of the right reverend Prelate.

First of all, each scheme must be published, with its relevant plans and sections, and made available for public inspection. From then on, for a period of up to forty days, objections may be lodged with the Secretary of State. An objector may ask for a public inquiry, and if he does so the Secretary of State must grant his request, unless the objection is withdrawn or is a frivolous one. When the Secretary of State finally decides, after an inquiry if need be, that the scheme should be confirmed, it must then lie before both Houses of Parliament for yet another period of forty days, and during that time it may be annulled by a Prayer in either House. Incidentally, the forty days expire to-day. Your Lordships will appreciate, therefore, that there are many opportunities for the public to criticise these schemes and for their objections to be heard and considered.

In addition to all this, the Scottish Electricity Boards, in preparing hydroelectric schemes, have a special responsibility as regards amenity. Section 9 of the 1943 Act places on the Board an obligation to have regard to the desirability of preserving the beauty of the scenery and any object of architectural or historic interest. To assist them in carrying out this duty a special Committee exists for dealing with amenity questions. It is set up under Statute and is composed of independent members appointed by the Secretary of State. The Board are obliged to consult the Committee before and during the preparation of any constructional scheme. In addition, of course, the Board may consult it at any other time, and frequently do. The Committee advises not only the Board but also the Secretary of State, and, furthermore, its recommendations are before the Secretary of State when he considers whether any scheme should be confirmed. A similar Committee advises the Board and the Secretary of State on fisheries matters. If a public inquiry is held, it is the Secretary of State's practice to make the recommendations of both Committees available at the inquiry.

The Loch Awe scheme was published by the Board on July 17, 1957. No objections on amenity grounds were received. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde asked whether there had been any objections. The answer is that there were none. Any other matters that were raised were withdrawn after negotiations. On the amenity side, the Amenity Committee did not object to the scheme in principle but made certain recommendations on points of detail. Some of these the Board were able to meet, and of course they will continue to consult the Committee at further stages. The Committee did not, however, find any fault with the scheme on the grounds that have been suggested.

I should also point out, as has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Airlie, that during the course of this procedure the Board provided information for the Further enlightenment of, among otters, the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, the Scottish Rights of Way Society and the County Council of Argyll. Incidentally, the National Trust for Scotland did not ask for any information beyond what was publicly available. From this I would conclude that none of these bodies share the fears which have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley.

Having recently myself visited the Loch Awe area, and discussed the scheme, I can safely say that the fears which have been expressed about the Cruachan works will not be realised. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, suggested that we might cut out the Cruachan part of the scheme. I do not think the noble Lord realises that this is the major part of the scheme. The Cruachan part of the scheme will produce 400 million units a year; the Nant part of the scheme 27 million units, and the Inverawe part 100 million units.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, asked me about the completion date. The Inverawe section is due to be completed in 1962, and the whole scheme is due for completion in 1966. The noble Duke also asked me about road diversions, and I can give him an assurance that the road diversions will be made before there is any interference with the existing road. I was in Oban the other day, and I gave that very assurance to the local hoteliers' association. Then the noble Duke wanted to know about the economics of the scheme, in view of nuclear power. We cannot tell, of course, exactly what will happen in twenty years' time, but at present nuclear power stations cannot be used economically for peak-load periods. What we want is power available in 1965.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said that the hydro-electric contribution to our electricity supplies was pitifully small; I think he suggested 2 per cent. That is not as I understand the position. In the North of Scotland the hydro-electric generation provides the greater part of electricity used—in fact, 80 per cent. At the same time, it produces electricity more cheaply than it could be produced otherwise, and at a profit, which enables the supplies to be distributed to other parts of the North of Scotland; that is, to the uneconomic schemes that are still left to be done in the North of Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, asked me to give an assurance about power lines. I cannot go far into that matter, because power lines do not come into the scheme, but I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the Hydro-Electric Board will make every effort, in consultation with the Amenity Committee, to secure an acceptable route for the transmission lines. I can also give an assurance that they are, in. fact, preparing to discuss this matter with the planning authorities now. The noble Lord also expressed some concern about the barrage which is to be set up at the end of the Loch. The Amenity Committee and the Hydro-Electric Board recommended that the Board should consider, if the cost was not excessive, whether the weir over the River Awe could be moved upstream by about half a mile. For technical and financial reasons, the Board were unable to accept this suggestion.

The reasons were as follows. First, the barrage must be of sufficient width and height to allow large volumes of water to get away quickly in times of flood. If the barrage were moved upstream, it would be narrower and, in consequence, would have to be made much higher or deeper. The bed of the river prevents its being made deeper, and it must not be made higher because the level of the Loch has to be kept within narrow limits. The disposal of flood water would thus be very difficult. Moving the barrage half a mile upstream would add considerably to the length and to the cost of the tunnel. The tunnel costs about £180 a foot, and that would mean adding to the cost something like £475,000. As stated in the Explanatory Memorandum on the scheme, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State accepted that, for these reasons, it would be impracticable to site the weir upstream.

Over the roads I travelled in the area the sites of these works high up on the mountainside will be most inconspicuous and visible only from one or two rare vantage points. I therefore believe that this part of the scheme will prove as innocuous as similar works which have been carried out by the Board on Ben Lawers, Ben Vorlich and so on. For example, from the main road between Dalmally and the pass of Brander nothing of the Cruachan works will be seen. Even the main generating station will be underground and will be fed by tunnels, not by pipes on the surface.

I can give every assurance to climbers, including the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that they need have no cause for alarm, as the steep-sided reservoir on Cruachan will not empty daily. The only persons who might have some cause for alarm about the dam are the skiers who cannot stop when they get to it. This dam holds about one and a half weeks' supply, and when the station is working at full capacity in the winter months the maximum drawdown during a heavy week will not empty the reservoir but will reduce the loch surface area only by about 50 per cent. This is no worse than occurs from time to time at Loch Sloy, which I know is enjoyed by many visitors and climbers.

I believe, that, as my noble friend Lord Airlie said, it is widely felt that the Board's record in these matters of amenity is a good one. I know that they have gone to considerable trouble to avoid any grounds of criticism, and I think that their efforts have met with conspicuous success. Perhaps I might mention two examples. It will be remembered that one of their first schemes, the Tummel-Garry scheme, was criticised because of the harm it might do to the amenity of Pitlochry. But in practice, as my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Auckland have pointed out, the contrary has proved true, and the Board's reservoir at Pitlochry and the fish-pass associated with it are regarded as an additional attraction to tourists. The same fears were expressed about Glen Affric; but there again the Board have, in fact, enhanced the area by opening it up to visitors. I can therefore assure noble Lords, from a personal investigation of the site, that I see no reason to fear for the beauties of Loch Awe and Cruachan. As I have explained, the Board will continue to consult the Amenity Committee as the scheme proceeds. This is the procedure that Statute envisages for the preservation of amenities. Experience has shown that it works well, and I do not think there is any justification to hold up the scheme for further consideration on that account.

I should point out that the Scottish sales of electricity increased by 64 per cent, in the seven years to 1957, while the peak demand advanced by 71 per cent, in that period. Now there is nothing to suggest that this progress will not continue, and the Scottish Boards expect that by the end of 1964 the peak demand will be some 69 per cent. more than in 1957, and will total 3,250 megawatts, of which the Awe scheme will supply 450 megawatts; that is to say, 12 per cent. of the total Scottish demand, or 34 per cent. of the additional capacity that the Boards expect they will have to provide in the next five years.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had some observations on the economics of the scheme, so perhaps I could briefly go into how the economics of the Loch Awe scheme are going to work. One of the features of conventional hydro-electric work is, of course, their high initial cost per kilowatt of capacity installed, though this is compensated for by the lower running costs of hydro-generating plant compared with those of steam generating plant. But when, as in the present instance, the hydro-electric works are used in the form of a pump-storage scheme, the capital cost per kilowatt installed can actually be lower than those of nuclear or coal fired stations. The figures given in the Explanatory Memorandum are £44 per kilowatt installed at Cruachan, which includes an allowance for transmission cost and between £50 and £55 for a new steam station of the kind being erected in the South of Scotland. The running costs are higher than in a conventional station. For the power required, the pumping has to be paid for, and some of the power is lost in the process. But the electricity used for pumping will be cheap, because it will come from plant which would otherwise be idle. The pump storage scheme therefore makes fuller use of existing steam or nuclear plant, and that in itself is an advantage.

The net result, however, is that the peak-load power, which is always the most expensive kind of power to produce, can be provided by a suitable pump storage unit more cheaply than it could be provided by a new steam or nuclear station—and that would be the alternative. The Explanatory Memorandum goes into the details of the cost, and shows that the pump storage part of the scheme is estimated to show a saving of .2d. per unit over the cost of production for the same load factor by a new steam station. The conventional hydro-electric part of the scheme—that is to say, in particular the Nant and Inverawe sections—shows a saving of .4d. per unit compared with costs at a steam station of corresponding capacity. This margin of profit, part of which, of course, will be shared by the South Scotland Electricity Board, enables the North of Scotland Electricity Board to finance their uneconomic schemes, particularly the schemes in the North of Scotland. So it can be seen that economic and profitable generating schemes like the Awe scheme are essential if the Board's policy of bringing electricity to the remoter areas is to be completed.

I am sure your Lordships would not wish me to sit down without paying a tribute to the Chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, the right honourable Thomas Johnston, who is shortly to lay down the office in which he has now served for over thirteen years. Mr. Johnston, on succeeding the first Chairman of the Board (my noble friend Lord Airlie, who had the task of starting the Board on its great work), has been responsible for carrying out the design that he himself planned. Under his chairman-ship the Board has acquired a high reputation, not least for the care it has taken to preserve amenities. I am glad to say that Mr. Johnston will not sever his connection with the Board after this summer, for at their request and with the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, he will continue his efforts in conjunction with the Board to attract industries to the Board's district. I am sure your Lordships will wish him well in this work, and will at the same time wish every success to the new Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.


My Lords, I have no right to reply, but I would, I am sure, be expressing the views of your Lordships if I were to thank the noble Lord for the great care which he has obviously put into his detailed explanation of the scheme.