§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, it may be convenient if I intervene at this juncture in the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow up in detail some of the specific points he has raised; but my noble friend Lord St. Oswald will be dealing with particular points at the end of the debate, when he comes to wind up.
I believe that all your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for having raised this subject. His well-known concern for rural amenity and his wide experience in these matters make him well qualified to do so and to speak on the preservation of natural beauty in this country. I venture to think, moreover, that in this debate to-day no fundamental cleavage of opinion will develop between your Lordships. The problem is inescapable. There is a large number of people—50 million—living in this very small island and they live, thank God! at a very high level of prosperity which is very largely due to industrialisation. There can be no industrialisation without electricity. That means power stations and transmission lines.
I should be the first to agree that man does not live by bread alone, and perhaps the greatest problem of this modern age, perhaps even the greatest problem of all ages, is for us to try to 420 tackle and resolve this conflict between what one might broadly call the things of the spirit and materialism. But there is no simple solution to this problem. I think that we shall probably find ourselves to-day in much closer agreement than we found ourselves in your Lordships' House yesterday. Then, from the Benches opposite a proposition was put that Her Majesty's Government were at fault in the way they were handling public finance for private industry. Your Lordships did not agree with that proposition. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has not put his proposition to-day in terms of that kind. He has not said that Government policy in this matter of dealing with electrical development is basically wrong or unsound. There are, of course, many points of detail on which we shall disagree. The noble Lord has already raised some points on which he has doubts. Some may be substantial points, but I do not believe that any noble Lord is going to say to-day that Her Majesty's Government are pursuing a fundamentally unsound policy in relation to the development of electricity in this country.
With those few introductory remarks may I refer straight away to the terms of the Motion:To call attention to the effect of electrical development upon the natural beauty of the British Isles.Perhaps it would be more convenient if I speak—as I am really only capable of speaking—for England and Wales over which my right honourable friend the Minister of Power and the Chairman of the Central Electricity Board have responsibility. The Secretary of State and the Chairman of the two Hydro-Electric Boards deal with Scotland. My remarks, therefore, in so far as they are general remarks, will be chiefly concerned with England and Wales.
I should like to turn straight away to the great speech, if I may call it so, of Sir Christopher Hinton at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts on November 25, 1959, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has drawn your Lordships' attention. I am extremely glad that he has done so, for they are most striking words. It is a most striking statement because Sir Christopher Hinton is an engineer. He is Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board. His speech was not 421 that of a crude industrial tycoon. It was not the speech of one who is taking no consideration for the natural beauty of this country; and anyone who heard the speech or has since read it must be impressed by it. I commend it very much to your Lordships as being very relevant to the lines on which those in charge of this great electrical development in this country are thinking. At the same Session of the Royal Society of Arts Sir William Holford also spoke. He is a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission and is directly charged with keeping his eye on these amenity problerns—and a very bright eye it is. These two gentlemen are looking after us in this way, and I do recommend your Lordships to read those two speeches.
If I may turn to the power stations themselves, I believe that some people are inclined to concentrate on the nuclear power stations mainly because present policy gives those stations a comparatively high degree of isolation which brings them into remote rural areas. I believe there is, excusably, some confusion of thought about the reason for this isolation. These stations are being designed and constructed with every possible care and safeguard and are unlikely to give rise to any greater risks than those which are bound to arise in all great industries. There is always a possibility, however, that an accident might occur, and the result of an accident in a station of that kind would be, or might be, to give rise to a higher level of radioactivity in the immediate neighbourhood than is right or safe. It must be stressed that in that case—although this contingency is highly unlikely—there might be the need for a temporary evacuation of the people who live close to that power station. That is why it is right in these circumstances to place these nuclear stations in areas where the density of population is sufficiently sparse to ensure that in the event of accident the minimum number of people would be inconvenienced by such an evacuation. That is really the answer to one of the specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley.
He also raised the vexed question of Trawsfynydd, in North Wales. It is the policy that these nuclear stations must be in remote areas. It is also the fact 422 that this country is very small, so it is inescapable that one finds oneself at places like Hinckley Point or at Trawsfynydd when one goes to a remote area away from industrialisation. I should also like to make another point. It must not be thought that if there were no nuclear programme it would always be possible to find sites for power stations in those industrial areas which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, would consider have been already spoiled. The demand for electricity is doubling every ten or twelve years. New sites are continually being needed for new power stations, and those stations must be planned, for larger and larger capacities. Owing to the very great quantities of cooling water required by large power stations of modern design, it is impossible to site them always, or even, in the future, in the majority of cases, in what are known as industrial areas where river water can be relied upon for cooling. Sites like those which are being used for nuclear power stations will almost certainly have to come under consideration for conventional stations in the near future.
My Lords, this is all very sad. It is the problem that we must tackle, and I want to try to assure your Lordships that the machinery for tackling this problem is sound machinery and that it works properly and under the safeguards of Parliament where it can be discussed. We are properly covered for what can be a potential destroyer of amenity. The legislation and the procedure for the siting of these new power stations—and I would say also of the transmission lines which take the power away from them—are more exacting than those for other kinds of development. Let us go over the steps for a moment. In England and Wales the consent of the Minister of Power—and in Scotland it is the consent of the Secretary of State—must be obtained: that is, specific consent. Secondly, the local authority and local planning authority must have their opportunity for making representations. Thirdly, the proposal must be publicly advertised.
In practice, therefore, the local planning authority carry out the same procedure of consulting the interests which may be affected as they would if the application had been made to them under normal planning procedure. So a power-station proposal is not only subject to the 423 same sort of scrutiny that any other industrial development is, but in addition is subject to the test of public advertisement; it is subject to the test of express ministerial consent, and when there is any specific objection the Minister of Power must hold his public inquiry before reaching a decision. He is, indeed, required by law to hold a public inquiry when there are objections from the local planning authority whenever there is any important question of amenity involved. An inspector or an assessor of the Ministry of Housing sits with the Ministry of Power inspector; and this is the procedure not only for the power stations but also for main transmission lines.
Here I come to the first of the larger points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. He seemed to think that if the Minister of Power was making the decision, and was holding the inquiry, he would be biased. He went so far as to make the suggestion that these inquiries should be the responsibility of the Prime Minister himself. My Lords, is that really practicable? Is it not constitutionally the fact that the Minister giving a decision is giving the decision of Her Majesty's Government? It is not a personal decision; it is not a departmental decision. And in these cases the decision is more clearly seen to be the decision of the Government and not merely of the Department because so often the other Minister, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is chiefly responsible for amenity, is concerned in the same inquiry and is coupled with the Minister of Power.
I feel we can be assured that this procedure ensures that all proposals for the new power stations and grid lines are most carefully scrutinised with a view to keeping to a minimum the invasion of hitherto underdeveloped areas. But some invasion must ensue. We cannot wholly avoid it: we must face that fact. And therefore it is of the greatest importance that when we do have to invade the remote and beautiful areas, non-industrialised areas, the buildings shall be designed, so far as is humanly possible, not to outrage the amenity more than is absolutely necessary and that the power lines shall be routed and placed in the best possible way. It really is not possible to say that we can do without these stations or without these lines.
424 In a moment I will come to the point about putting these lines underground, which I also believe at the present time is wholly impossible. But if we have to go into this remote country and build a station in one of these areas I think we should bear in mind that the Central Generating Board is very conscious of its responsibilities, as on the Board is a part-time member, Sir William Holford, who is there precisely to exercise a general oversight over the Board's plans of this kind. In addition, of course, all new power-station designs are submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission for their comment.
It is sometimes asked why we cannot make a comprehensive plan of where all the power stations are to be sited for a long time ahead, and then the country can discuss it and come to a solution. But that would not be a practicable proposition. This is a new industry which is developing fast. Fifteen years ago such a plan could not foresee nuclear power stations at all. Even as recently as 1957 the thought was that there would have to be about nineteen such stations. Now I understand that it is becoming clearer that larger but fewer stations are the order of the day, and that it is possible—indeed, likely—that we shall not require more than, say, ten or twelve of these stations. Similarly, conventional coal or oil burning stations are altering in design and size so rapidly and radically that a very far-ahead programme could be most misleading and is not really practical politics at the present time.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I ask this question, if my noble friend is leaving the question of the siting of these transmission lines? Is he saying that the admirable principles for routing these transmission lines laid down by Sir William Holford, in the speech which quite rightly he has praised, have been followed in the case of this Kent inquiry to which the noble Lord introducing this Motion referred? It may be more convenient, possibly, for his noble friend to deal with this point, but I thought it right to give notice of it. It seems to me that in that case the recommendations by Sir William Holford have not been followed; nor, of course, those of the Royal Fine Art Commission, which has been mentioned, and which was among those who preferred the other line.
My Lords, as I have said, no doubt noble Lords will bring forward a large number of individual cases and problems where they find themselves at variance with the principles that have been laid down, and I am glad that my noble friend thinks they are admirable principles. I do not propose to refer in detail to the North Kent line, except to say that my noble friend is going to reply at the end of the debate to specific points of that sort which are raised. But I should like to say, as my noble friend Lord Conesford has raised the matter, that really the point about those two lines is one which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, described as "sordid". The northern line, I understand, very briefly, would cost some £600,000 more to bridge the Medway; it is a question of pounds, shillings and pence, and of how much we can afford to spend for taking a line on a more expensive route, albeit a route that would interfere less with amenity. But I should like to say more about these overhead lines. I was not proposing to leave that point at the moment.
The whole point about these overhead lines is the question of their cost. It is no good saying that it is a sordid subject and we should burke it. Noble Lords may not know what some of these costs amount to. I have here a table in front of me which shows that for the heaviest of our grid transmission lines which are used in this country at the moment, 275 kv. lines—heavy duty lines—the cost overhead is approximately £23,500 a mile. If that 275 kv. line is underground, to use the jargon, it may cost up to £400,000 a mile, which is seventeen times as much.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Will the noble Earl allow me to say that in no part of my speech did I say that this super-grid should be grounded, and that never has been said. Really, we are getting sick and tired of having this put to us in this way: it is an "Aunt Sally" which the Government spokesmen put up every time. It is easy to knock down, however, and I do not think that anybody in the country is deceived by it for one second.
I cannot accept that, my Lords. If these high-tension lines are not to be grounded, is the noble Lord implying that we should 426 not distribute the electricity at all? There are only two things to be done if you are to have electricity at all: you have either to put the wire overhead, on a pole or grid, or put it underground.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Can the noble Earl point to any sentence in my speech in which I was making this case? What we are concerned with is the proper line for these pylons. There may be some grounding which can take place; but on the whole we agree with the view that they cannot be grounded. What we are concerned with is that when all the amenities are in favour of one particular line, the other line should be taken for the sake of some £600,000. It really is a very small sum when we look at what is spent on rockets, and so on.
I accept the point, and I am delighted to know that the noble Lord is not asking for the grounding of all lines. It saves a lot of time.
If I may perhaps be allowed to make my speech, I will come to low-tension lines later. I was explaining that the grounding of high-tension lines is outrageously expensive—I think prohibitively expensive. The grounding of low-tension distribution lines would also cost between, say, three and eight times as much as having overhead lines, and those things must be taken into consideration. No Government can say simply that that is a very small sum compared to the cost of an atomic bomb. That is an argument which it is very difficult to take seriously. You cannot compare the cost of education with the cost of electricity and say, "Ah, one is a great deal of money and the other is a very small sum of money". The balance has got to be taken all the way through on the reasonable costs and economies of producing a reasonable service.
The task of selecting these routes, whether they be grid routes or distribution routes, is extremely complex; and one has only to remember such things as airfields, which must be avoided, to realise that. To get the right balance struck between the effect of the line upon the landscape and the general economy 427 of the distribution system is not easy, and there is no simple solution. However, I wanted to make the point that, as in the case of the power stations, the construction of these grid lines cannot begin without Ministerial consent. The procedure is the same: consultation with the local planning authority and the local authorities concerned, followed by public advertisement of the proposed route and, in the event of objection, the inquiry.
Now as to the overhead distribution lines, which I gather the noble Lord would like to see grounded, what would be the effect of that? I speak for a moment, if I may, as an agriculturist; as one who lives in the country and who has always lived in the country. Rural electrification has made good progress in recent years. Over 220,000 farms in England and Wales-80 per cent. of the total—are now connected with the electricity supplies. Only 31 per cent. had electricity supplied in 1948. There is still a long way to go. I am told that there are probably 160,000 rural premises, other than farms, which still have no supplies, and we want to get at least half of these connected up during the next three years. The Area Boards are spending £10 million a year on overhead lines at present. If these lines had to be undergrounded, the cost would be at least trebled, and in many cases more; and the progress of rural electrification would inevitably be most seriously affected.
Then there is the question of research—and we must get back to this matter. This is really a question of cost. Research is going forward, and has been going forward for many years, both by the Boards and by the cable manufacturers, with a view to reducing the cost of this underground cable. I am no scientist and I am no electrical engineer, but I am advised that we should be deceiving ourselves if we thought that in the foreseeable future there will be any substantial change in the ratio of the cost of overhead construction to the cost of underground construction—and I have already given your Lordships some of those costs in detail. I am told that the fundamental reason why the overhead wire will always be so much cheaper is that the overhead wire uses air as an insulator, and we shall never get anything cheaper than free air.
428 Of course, there is a direction in which research and development may help us. I am told that the highest pressure at which we distribute our electricity is by a 275 kv. line. Other countries already have a higher pressure than that, and it may become even higher in future. One day 400 and 500 kv. may be a practical possibility; and, in that case, although the towers would have to be higher, it would mean carrying more electricity iii one line. I am told that that is a more likely development than that the cost of undergrounding cables will become very much less.
My Lords, many noble Lords wish to speak in this debate, and I will not delay your Lordships further; but I should like to ask you, in your deliberations this afternoon, to remember, as I am sure you will, however much you may object to an individual case of natural beauty having been spoilt, that electricity in itself is one of the greatest amenities of modern life. It is essential to our expanding industry, to the efficient operation of our agricultural industry, and to public health and safety. Without it, we could not even have the television. The invasion of the countryside by new power stations and overhead lines is to some extent unavoidable. The task of Ministers, of local authorities and of the Electricity Boards—and, indeed, of every citizen, too—is to ensure that, by as careful planning as possible and by as much constructive criticism as possible, a proper balance is maintained between the preservation of the beauty of the country and the need for—and, therefore, the needs of—its very life-blood, which is an efficient and economic power system for this country.
§ LORD FORBES
Before the noble Earl sits down, might I ask him whether more use could not be made of landscape architects for the siting of pylons?
Perhaps that is a detailed point that my noble friend, when he comes to reply to the debate, could answer more fully than I am able to do now "off the cuff". May I ask my noble friend to answer that point at the end of the debate?
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened is very different from anything the noble Lord, Lord Mills, has said to us in the 429 last two or three years; and, I feel, is very different, in substance and perhaps in tone, from what he would have said to us this afternoon. Many of the points the Government spokesman has made really, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has said, put up an "Aunt Sally" which it is easy to knock down. I feel compelled to say, a little more fully than I should otherwise have done, what are the general grounds which lead me to express myself as in full sympathy with what has been said by the mover of this Motion—a sympathy which I believe is shared by the great majority of your Lordships.
The importance of preserving the natural beauty of these islands applies, in my view, not merely to places or areas of outstanding scenic distinction. It is also important to preserve, while we can and so far as it is practicable, the pleasantness of our ordinary countryside, which is being dosed with chemicals of one sort or another in the interests of agriculture, and is in danger, as is sometimes disrespectfully said, of being littered with ironmongery of all shapes and sizes. Of course, not all this is due to electrical development—and I speak as one who has been concerned in the development of electricity supply, which has brought, is bringing and will continue to bring, immense benefits to our industrial and social life. No one interested in amenity, and none of the naturalists to whom I will refer in a moment, wishes to stand in the way of that beneficial development. But I think that a slightly different approach from that which has just been adopted could do no harm to electrical development and might do much for the preservation of the countryside and for the wild life of the country, with which I am particularly concerned.
The wild life of this country needs for its continuance, so far as possible, an undamaged countryside, which alone can provide it with the necessary habitats. Wild life, in its turn, adds much to the significance of the countryside, scientifically as well as æsthetically and as a field for recreation. I do not think that it is too much to claim that the preservation of rural England and its flora and fauna can be and should be one of the most effective, and certainly one of the cheapest, remedies for the strains and stresses of the industrialised 430 and urban life into which our population is being driven. It is not right to say that this is just a question of development or that the issue is industry or Man himself against Nature. The preservation of nature is one of the most urgent needs of man, and it is one which, in my view, is entitled to the highest priority. If we neglect it, we shall do so at the peril of the health and sanity of future generations.
Just as lovers of the open air and the countryside found it necessary to join forces and form the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales, so naturalists whose interests are threatened in so many directions, quite apart from the developments we are discussing this afternoon, have found it necessary to join in the recently formed Council for Nature, which now represents over 200 separate organisations of naturalists. The three Councils seem to me to be natural allies, if my noble friend Lord Chorley will allow me that expression, and from their different but parallel points of view are surely justified in expressing to your Lordships some concern at what is happening.
I do not want to repeat points which have already been made, and will again be made in this debate, but there is one which I should like to make, particularly in regard to the siting of hydroelectric dams and power stations, atomic or conventional. It is sometimes supposed by engineers, and even by those eminent in the physical sciences, that it cannot really matter what site is selected because there is plenty of room elsewhere and natural life will always find somewhere else to go. In other words, they take the line of Dr. Johnson, who was somewhat urban in his tastes and say: "One green field is very much like another". But to a naturalist or to any lover of the countryside that is very far indeed from the truth. Many habitats to which those in search of sites for generating stations are attracted have special scientific interest because they contain associations of plants and animals not found or, indeed, able to exist elsewhere. But I will not develop that point any further this afternoon.
I know full well the difficulties of choosing a site. Someone is bound to object. That was so when I was chair- 431 man of the Electricity Commission twelve, and even twenty, years ago, before we had to consider atomic generating stations. My colleagues and I were immensely relieved when a Minister of Town and Country Planning was created and we could throw some part of our burden of decision upon him. But though we were under a statutory obligation to promote a cheap and abundant supply of electricity, we never took the view that every other consideration, including amenity, was to be ignored or brushed aside. And when we sat to hold public inquiries, as I often did, we did not do so with the feeling that we just had to listen to representations on grounds of amenity of objectors or with any feeling in our hearts that we were bound to turn them down. I do not know that the industry, which was then largely privately owned, could be said to have wholeheartedly accepted that attitude; but they never challenged it, and most of them thought it reasonable. Surely, now that the industry has been nationalised, those considerations are entitled to much greater weight than they had in the past. Indeed, what is the sense of nationalisation if on some great issue of public policy or national interest these wide considerations are not to be taken into account?
I do not want to say much more about this alleged conflict of duty, but I feel, in spite of what was said in the reply to which we have just listened, that more could be done if there were early consultation on a comprehensive scale between those responsible for electricity and responsible bodies like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The Council, as I have said, do not want to stand in the way of necessary and beneficial developments. What I think they desire to suggest is that only good could result if this course of frank and early consultation were followed. Something, I know, has been done in this direction, and I appreciate as well as anyone, because I have seen the other side, that it is difficult for the authorities themselves to know always just what they might require, even in the near future. But there is a feeling that a more comprehensive discussion of probable requirements at an earlier date might have avoided, and might still 432 avoid, some of the trouble created by piecemeal action and decisions.
Certainly when it comes to detailed treatment and methods of execution, there are many opportunities for mitigating adverse effects upon natural life, and I am sure also upon amenity, if that kind of consultation takes place. I am a little puzzled at the reply which we have just heard because it seems to me quite contrary to what Sir Christopher Hinton has said, and also (this is perhaps more important) to what he has done. I am glad to acknowledge how ready the Central Electricity Generating Board have been to act helpfully in several recent cases where the situation from their point of view was not altogether easy. I can give two instances not directly related to amenity. While all naturalists deplored the decision of the Minister in relation to Dungeness, the Generating Board have done everything they possibly can to help us safeguard the natural life of the surrounding areas—and, I may add, meeting the cost of protecting the area in various ways.
Another instance, again not directly related to amenity, is the scheme for development in the Rheidol Valley in North Wales, an area of great beauty and one of considerable scientific interest. The scheme involved an interference with the course of the river. It was thought that a catastrophe which happened many years ago when the lead and zinc mines were worked, with the result that the whole natural life of the river was destroyed and it became completely sterile, would happen again. It was said to the Board: "If you will accept the advice of, or take into consultation, scientists, who can be named and are familiar with these problems, do you not think that they and your own people could find some means of avoiding this?" As I have said, the Board could not have been more helpful. They agreed to accept the collaboration of outside scientists; they appointed one of their own; they devised various means by which the pent-up water in the old lead and zinc workings would not be loosed directly into the river and by which the exposed spoil would be treated before the rain was able to wash toxic substances into the river. As a result, we have every reason to hope that their schemes can now proceed without any damage. Of course, that has cost them a certain amount of money. But why not?
433 That brings me to the problem of the transmission lines. So far as I know, the amenity societies and the National Parks Commission have never asked that these very high voltage lines should be put underground. They realise that this is both technically impracticable and financially impossible. It is really not quite fair, if I may say so, to found an argument against the Motion on that sort of ground. I am glad to hear—and I know it is happening in other countries—that even higher voltages will be secured, making it still more difficult to put them underground, but with considerable economy and a reduction in the amount of ironmongery to which we might otherwise be subjected. But the real problem is the much lower voltage lines. In that case there are no serious technical difficulties; nor is the cost prohibitive—two and a half to three times, in many cases. The figures adopted will depend on the nature of the soil through which the underground line has to go: it would be one thing if it had Ito go through solid rock in the form of a tunnel and it would be quite different in other geographical conditions.
I am not alone, by the way, in thinking that many of the highest pylons are not open to objection: they are interesting, and often in no way offensive features of the scene, except where they cross the skyline or perhaps run up some particular valley. But, as I say, that is not the real issue. The question is whether, with the lower voltage lines, a much greater mileage could not be underground. Surely everyone will agree that that ought to be done; and there is no problem, except that of expense. Of course some extra expenditure will be involved. But then again, why not? Amenities, like pure air, pure water and many other things, may be a little expensive but they are less expensive, in the long run, than the alternative of having all our rivers sewers, our cities covered by palls of smog and consequences of that sort.
The argument, it seems to me, is often put the wrong way round: that consumers and would-be consumers of electricity ought to be allowed to do what they like and ought to be "bought off" if they are asked not to violate the landscape. It seems to me to be more sensible to look at it from the other angle, and to say that those who are going to 434 benefit from the expansion of electricity supply ought to afford, and can well afford, the cost of observing proper standards of amenity, just as they have to observe proper standards of safety, although lower standards of safety might be cheaper. In point of fact, the use of electricity is now, fortunately, so general, if only for television, that its users and the general taxpayers are almost, if not entirely, coincident. I cannot myself see the faintest justification for saying that if amenity is to be preserved the cost of preserving it should be thrown on the general taxpayer. Nor, indeed, do I see any justification for saying that it should fall on the limited number of consumers who live in the areas where the disputed lines are going to run.
I suppose (and I should like to be corrected, possibly by my noble friend Lord Citrine if I am wrong), that expenditure of this kind is treated as capital expenditure, and the interest and sinking fund charges on that expenditure have to be met and in due course amortised over the life of the line, which will be considerable. I cannot think that in particular areas the cost of undergrounding a reasonable proportion of the mileage would be excessive. In other words, undergrounding the line, where that is right, should be accepted as a proper part of the costs of the scheme, as part of the capital expenditure, and dealt with in the same way. That, I am sure, was the intention of your Lordships in the recent Act, and I thought it was clearly the intention of the Minister when he accepted our Amendment.
I might perhaps forestall an argument. It may be said that if special concessions are to be given to particular classes or parts of the community, that is not a fair burden on the industry. That would be so if they were asked to give special concessions on their tariffs. But that, I submit, is an entirely different case from that which we are now considering. On this basis of finance, I am quite sure that this great and growing industry is well able to Stand and carry the burden. I think it would be dangerous to say that amenity should be paid for by the taxpayer or some special group, as though it were a fad, a frill or an extravagance. I am sure it is better to look at it the other way and accept it as part of the cost of doing the job properly.
435 I realise that inside the industry it may be said that these measures will fall perhaps with more severity in certain areas like Lancashire or North Wales, and that some internal pool is required; that the areas themselves are not big enough to carry the charge every year by themselves. I should have thought that the size and diversity of their load would take care of that. But if it cannot, then I am sure that nothing would be easier than for the Electricity Council to devise a scheme for an internal pool within the industry which would even out any discrepancies between one area and another.
May I pass to the consideration of quite a different point? There is a feeling that in important cases someone other than a departmental officer should hold the inquiry and advise the Minister. I speak with a good deal of experience of this matter and I agree that in the vast majority of cases, including all routine and minor cases—applications and objections—the use of a trained departmental inspector gives general satisfaction and is the only practicable procedure from the point of view of administration. But where there is a case of great difficulty and importance, involving much controversy and raising wide issues of public policy and, what is important, involving the weighing of considerations of quite different values one against the other, is that procedure always advisable?
I put that forward for the Minister's consideration because it has been recently put to me from various quarters. I should like to say that I do so without the least reflection upon those who have held the recent inquiries. One of them who has been referred to this afternoon was a senior inspector of my own when I was Chairman of the Electricity Commission, and I can assure your Lordships that there could be no more competent or experienced electrical engineer, or one better able to weigh up correctly all technical considerations or, indeed, more to be relied upon to report faithfully what was said to him. But that is not quite the point. The question is whether, in exceptional cases such as I have indicated, objectors might not be better satisfied, and the Minister himself helped if, when it falls on him to balance not merely technical and engineering or even 436 economic factors, but wide aspects of public policy, he occasionally appointed someone not connected with the electrical industry or his own Department. In one's own administrative experience one can recall resorting to a senior member of the Parliamentary Bar—a valuable recruiting ground, I always thought, from this point of view—or some other lawyer of standing. I make that suggestion as to procedure because I think it would help the Minister, and I have indicated my views on the financial aspect of the problem.
I should like to conclude by reminding the noble Lord who will reply for the Government of what I ventured to say to the then Minister of Power in moving the Amendment to the 1957 Act, which requires regard to be had to the preservation of our fauna and flora as well as amenity. I said that what was needed from those in power on the Front Benches—and not merely from the Minister of Power (though I do not know that one ought to burden the Prime Minister) but from the Government as a whole—was not expressions of sympathy with these aims, however genuine those expressions might be, but one or two good decisions in the right sense which would show that regard had been had to these other considerations. There is a feeling—and I think the Government would be unwise to neglect it—that it is becoming a foregone conclusion that the Minister, subject to minor variations or compromises in minor cases, will endorse whatever the Boards may ask for. Though I am not associating myself with that view, there is no doubt that that feeling exists, and that in some quarters the inquiries are coming to be regarded as a waste of time, or even a farce. That is a bad thing from every point of view, and in the long run will embarrass the Minister and, indeed, embarrass the Electricity Authorities.
It would, as I am sure the noble Lord who is to reply will agree, be wise to go some way to prevent this, and to avoid a long series of decisions always, in one sense, giving ground for any such impression. The nation as a whole is increasingly alive to the need for preserving the pleasantness and beauty of our countryside, for the deep-seated reasons which I have ventured to give. The means of doing so are practicable and rarely present any great technical 437 difficulty. It is surely impossible for Ministers, truthfully and consistently with what we are told—and I do not challenge it—about our present prosperity and its predicted increase, to say that we cannot afford any reasonable measures. I trust that we shall hear from the noble Lord a categorical assurance that the Government intend henceforth to give some actuality to the principles which they accepted so short a time ago.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I should be glad to be allowed to take part in this debate for a short time. Realising as I do that there are many in your Lordships' House much better fitted to speak on this matter than I am who desire to intervene in the debate, I hope to exercise that quality which I have always thought was the supreme virtue in the spoken word, and that is, to be brief. I have known my noble friend Lord Chorley for so many years that I felt I should like to stand by his side on a Motion of this kind. I cannot say that I am enamoured with every view that my noble friend puts forward from time to time, but on this matter I am bound to say that l am wholeheartedly with him.
If your Lordships would allow one personal word, I would add this. It was Charles Lamb who said of his birthplace in Crown Office Row in the TempleA man would give much to have been born in such places.As I happen to have the great boon of having been born in the atmosphere of the Lake Country, I have always felt that a man would give much to have been born in such places, and that it also placed upon him some obligation throughout his life to safeguard and to defend those beauties, not only in the Lake Country, but wherever they were attacked, as Wordsworth once said,by rude assault.Therefore, although I am quite conscious that I cannot add anything that would be very new or very novel, I would still feel glad to have been allowed to take part in the debate or discussion here this afternoon.
I cannot say how much I admired the speech of my noble friend Lord Hurcomb who has just sat down. It was brimful of suggestions based upon practical knowledge, and had within it, as I thought, the kernel and essence of 438 this matter—a real love for the preservation of the beauty of the countryside. I think the noble Earl who spoke for the Government disappointed my noble friend Lord Hurcomb, as he disappointed me a little in this—namely, that the emphasis was always upon the side of power and electricity, and the natural beauty received not quite the same attention.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to try to correct that impression, if indeed I gave it, which I should like to say at once was the furthest thing from my mind. As all my life a countryman, in my Ministerial responsibility for agriculture—not the Ministry of Power—I started my speech by saying how refreshed and delighted I was to see the tone of that great speech by Sir Christopher Hinton, not an engineering tycoon speech at all, but full of the humanities.
§ LORD BIRKETT
I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for his intervention, and of course one accepts immediately and fully everything he says upon this matter. But it does allow me to say this, and I hope your Lordships will allow me to say it (I address it to myself as well as to anybody else): I think that the trouble on matters of this kind where natural beauty becomes involved is that we are too ready to pay mere lip service to natural beauty; but whenever it comes into conflict, and a practical decision has got to be made in competition, with other considerations, there is a tendency to disregard natural beauty. I think, for my own part—and that was why I was so glad to note it in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb—that we cannot over-emphasise the importance of the preservation of natural beauty upon the life of this country.
I will come in a moment to Section 37 and how that was framed and shaped in this House. But the trouble about natural beauty is that the moment you begin to speak of it, people begin to think you are just a little cranky; that you are not quite a normal person; that you have "got ideas" and that you really ought not to be talking in that fashion. I believe, for my own part, that beauty has a final value of its own. Men live by it just as they live by bread, though perhaps they are not 439 so conscious of it. But the trouble is that you cannot see the benefits. It was well said the other day that you can more easily raise £5 for a case of suffering than you can raise 1s. for the cause of beauty. The one is seen, observable; the other is not. Beauty cannot be measured by statistics; you cannot make a graph. And, so far as that is concerned, it has no votes behind it. It does not seem to have that appeal to the primitive emotions upon which politics seems to rest, and the abstract conception of beauty, therefore, although it has such a value in our national life, has a tendency to be overlooked and disregarded.
There were some very noble words once spoken by that very distinguished man, that very great man, who was lately Master of Trinity, Dr. G. M. Trevelyan. He said these words and I hope your Lordships will allow me to quote them:It is a question of spiritual values. Without vision the people perish, and without sight of the beauty of nature the spiritual life of the British people would be atrophied. By the side of religion, by the side of science, by the side of poetry and art, stands natural beauty, not as a rival to those but the common inspirer and nourisher of them all, and with a secret of her own besides.If you subscribe to that kind of doctrine, when you see a Motion on the House of Lords Order Paper containing these words, "the preservation of the beauty of the countryside", you think it is a privilege to be allowed to intervene in the debate to support it; and so I do.
There is just one other consideration on this part of the subject which I should like to mention. Increasingly we find that the assaults upon the beautiful places of our country grow in volume and intensity and strength. After all, it is only ten years since Parliament set aside these great areas of natural beauty, our National Parks, with the wordsFor the preservation of natural beauty and the enhancement of natural beauty".And yet we have seen, month by month and year by year, these wonderful places of natural beauty invaded. We debated in July last in your Lordships' House the Ninth Report of the National Parks Commission, and the words there of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and the grief that it was to the National Parks Com- 440 mission to find that, despite all their efforts, this kind of encroachment or invasion persisted and continued.
What I am fearful about is this: both, or all, the political Parties are putting great stress in their political programmes upon the importance of youth. They are seeking deliberately to attract youth and to give youth the future that youth deserves, and only yesterday the Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, made quite a notable speech about youth and the part that youth was to play in the coming years. There will be, without any doubt, on the part of youth an increased demand for leisure. A little time ago I was concerned with a dispute in one of the main industries of this country, and one of the points that was urged was the 40-hour week. I do not propose to enter into any discussion of the merits of the 40-hour week here this afternoon. All I am concerned to say is this: I was surprised and astonished at the passion—I use the word advisedly—with which the 40-hour week was advocated, and not on the sordid ground of money, not because it meant more overtime or more money in the pay packet, but because of the increased leisure that it gave to men and women and the opportunity to live a more dignified and more graceful way of life. That was the argument, and, in my view, it will increase in intensity, and there will be a greater and greater demand for that quietude and tranquillity and beauty of which Wordsworth first spoke, in order that the people who are concerned in this industrial, rather frustrating, age can get the benefits therefrom.
But what if by that time all these beautiful places are destroyed? I remember my noble friend, Lord Chorley, in the debate last July mentioning, as he did again to-day, the building of the great nuclear power station in the National Park of Snowdonia, and he said then, and I have never seen the answer to it, that the particular report upon that nuclear power station indicated that in 20 years it would almost certainly be obsolete. Moreover, because of the peculiar problems attached to such a building, its removal would be a virtual impossibility. There, in that lovely area, that is the situation.
It seems to me, therefore, that it is a very good thing that a debate of this 441 kind is held—not that the Members of your Lordships' House really need any discussion on this matter, because I am quite satisfied with what the noble Earl said, and that there would be, on the whole, utter agreement. At the most, what is said is "This intrusion into the National Parks by the nuclear building is an inevitable thing, but we will do everything we can, by way of siting and so on, to preserve the amenities, and so far as the transmission lines are concerned there again the utmost consideration will be given to the transmission lines going underground". Therefore I think it a most valuable thing to have a debate of this kind in order that public attention should be drawn to these matters. Let me just say this, on this part, before I leave it. So far as natural beauty is concerned, it is a quality that we ought, by every means in our power, to seek to preserve for the great spiritual benefit that can arise therefrom.
The only other matter that I want to speak about, just for a moment, is to endorse the question that was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—namely, what instructions are given to the Electricity Boards with regard, for example, to grounding electricity lines? As a matter of fact, I have with me some rather wonderful quotations from the speeches of Lord Mills in this House. I ought not to take up time by reciting them, but perhaps I may just say this to your Lordships. What is now being said by the Electricity Boards is roughly this: "There is a conflict of duty. There is Section 37 of the Electricity Act, 1957, which commands us to take note of and to preserve natural beauty, and there are the provisions in the Act of 1947 which command us to give an electricity supply and to give it at economical rates". They say that that conflict is a conflict of duty.
With great respect to everybody, I fail to see that any conflict of such a kind ought to arise, for this reason: this House ought, I think, to be proud that during the discussions on the Electricity Bill of 1957 it was your Lordships who put on the Statute Book that most valuable section which I have with me here, which recites the duty that it is incumbent upon the Electricity Boards to carry out; and the very words adopted by Lord Chorley in his Motion this afternoon are 442 taken from Section 37. This House put Section 37 into the Act.
Your Lordships will remember—many of you were here present—that what happened was that upon the Committee stage an Amendment had been moved to provide that out of their funds the Electricity Boards should be able to expend monies on unremunerative proposals—something of that nature. On the Committee stage that Amendment was withdrawn, on the understanding that on the Report stage the Government would deal with it. When the Government came to the Report stage they brought in what was virtually Section 37. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, from the Labour Benches moved an Amendment on the Committee stage, but withdrew it on the assurance given by Lord Mills, which I have before me, that every consideration would be given [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203, col. 961]:In any event, I can assure your Lordships that the Boards will be given orders to pay the greatest possible attention to the protection of amenities, which I know, and your Lordships know, will become all the more necessary as the programme advances.Therefore, I repeat the question which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, asked, and I hope that we may get an answer from the noble Lord who replies to the debate: what are the instructions that are given to the Boards on this all-important matter?
For this reason I have with me the report of an inquiry which was held so recently as last month. With this I will close. It was a public inquiry at St. David's on January 27, 1960, relating to proposals of the South Wales Electricity Board to erect overhead electricity lines on the St. David's Peninsula. There were 23 miles of cables, 20 miles of which was going overhead. The Pembrokeshire County Council agreed to that. But there were two miles in regard to which the County Council said, "In order to preserve natural beauty it is your duly under Section 37 to put this underground". The Board had written two letters from which I should like to quote. They said:The National Parks Commission no doubt realise that we are being pressed to bring electricity to the countryside as speedily as possible, and we can only do this by using the overhead method of distribution which is the most economic means at our disposal.443I regret, therefore, that this Board cannot consider"—observe the words "cannot consider"—incurring the greatly increased expenditure which would be involved by the use of underground cables.That is the first letter. In a letter fourteen months later they said:Your request has received very careful consideration, and I have to advise you that my Board are unable to agree to substitute the more costly underground distribution system for the standard overhead system which has already been established in the area, for the reasons given in past correspondence.At the inquiry, it was stated by learned counsel who appeared for the County Council that no landscape consultant had been employed, either in a full-time or part-time capacity, and no advice had been sought on the particular service. At the end of the inquiry Mr. Williams, who was the secretary of and solicitor to the Board, said that the Board had no intention of holding a pistol to the head of the local planning authority, and asked the inspector to consider how valuable was this area from an amenity point of view; how detrimental would be the erection of nine additional poles, and how much would that matter. His final point was to the effect that if consent is not granted for the overhead lines, further consideration of the scheme will have to be deferred indefinitely. I think that that is utterly wrong and is in the plainest possible defiance of Section 37. That was only a month ago. What the result of the inquiry will be, I do not know.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, could the noble and learned Lord tell me whether a mandamus would not lie against the Electricity Board, to enforce them to do their duty under the Act?
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, there was a time when I was always glad to give legal opinions, but circumstances alter cases. But I have not the slightest doubt that it would be possible for legal procedure to be adopted to make a recalcitrant authority perform its duty under the Act. So far as this House is concerned, I think the simpler and better course clearly would be this. I submit to your Lordships that that reply is plainly in defiance of Section 37, because the first letter says "We plainly cannot do it." It is as I said, that you 444 pay lip service to natural beauty, but when you get other considerations in conflict, natural beauty is cast aside. Here was the solicitor and secretary saying at the inquiry, "Well, if you do not take the overhead you will not get anything at all." That is quite a wrong threat. I ask: what are the instructions given to the Boards? In my submission they plainly ought to be, "You must really give full weight to Section 37." There is in truth no conflict between the duty to provide and the duty to take note, and I think the criticism is well founded that what is wanted is a better appreciation of Section 37 and its more rigorous application.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have spoken a little longer than I had intended, but I will end on this note. I quite agree that one cannot have everything one wants in this world. I said that in the debate in July and I was reproved, if I may put it in that way, by the noble Earl from the Labour Benches, for having wished that the National Parks Commission had supreme authority to decide what was done in the National Parks. I still hold to that view; but I still think that whoever has the authority and the power must take every consideration into account. The great cities need water; therefore we must deal with reservoirs, lakes and so on. The great cities and the countryside need and must have electricity. Sites must be found for the nuclear buildings. But these are all considerations to be taken into account, and natural beauty ought not to be ignored. It ought to be regarded, in the view I have ventured to put to your Lordships, as one of the major considerations.
It seems to me the oddest thing in the world that it should always happen that a great nuclear factory manages to get into a National Park. I should have thought, for my own part, that there must be, up and down the country, sites which would have done equally well; though I am not competent to judge. But what I do plead for and urge is that when these matters are being considered—both the erection of nuclear factories within areas of National Parks, or transmission lines, particularly in lower voltages—they should have that complete consideration, and that the quality of natural beauty should never be ignored.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, the whole of this debate, as we all realise, centres round one section—Section 37 of the Electricity Act, 1957; and, as we have heard, all those concerned with the operation of the Act, in formulating or considering their proposals, have the duty of taking into account any effect that such proposals would have upon the beauty of the countryside. It is those words in the section—"take into account"—that need our most careful consideration. I think we must try to consider what they mean and to see whether those who are concerned with the operation of this Act do, in fact, take into account Section 37 and everything for which it stands.
Who are those initially concerned with the operation of this Act? They are the Central Electricity Generating Board, the Electricity Council, the Area Boards and the Consultative Councils for each Area Board. So far as I can see, the Area Boards or their Consultative Councils contain no members appointed specifically to help with the implementation of this section of the Act. If that is so, is it not rather an unfortunate omission, in view of the fact that these bodies are enjoined to take these matters into account in formulating or considering their proposals—not afterwards? On the other hand, the Central Electricity Generating Board upon which serves, as the noble Earl has said, as one of its part-time members, a most distinguished architect and town planner, cannot, I think, be too highly praised for the excellence of the architecture of the newest power stations, or for the great care and consideration given in the design of the pylons. I believe that the Generating Board and their architectural advisers are to be most warmly congratulated upon this aspect of the matter. But because a structure is magnificently designed, or is beautiful in its majestic strength, or because a pylon can be, with careful forethought, a graceful thing, it cannot be said that such things will not harm, or even destroy, the natural beauty of some parts of the countryside.
I wonder, therefore, why the Act does not require the appointment, on the Consultative Councils at any rate, of representatives to help in the siting of structures and power lines from the purely aesthetic point of view. If one looks at 446 the formation of these Consultative Councils, one sees that they are formed partly of people representing local authorities in the area and partly of those representing agriculture, commerce, industry, labour, consumers of electricity and organisations interested in the development of electricity. These are mentioned in the First Schedule to the Act. It may be argued that local authorities are concerned with planning under the Town and Country Planning Act, and therefore with the preservation of natural beauty; but they are also concerned, as I have mentioned, with all the other special aspects for which special representatives are appointed—agriculture, industry, labour and so on. Why, therefore, is there no special representative concerned with amenities? For example (and this, I believe, has been mentioned in this debate) why not include perhaps the chairmen of branches of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England?
It would be interesting to know how these Area Boards and Consultative Councils, during the formulating and considering stage, in the absence of anyone competent to speak with knowledge upon the preservation of natural beauty and matters connected therewith, set about their duty to "take into account"—and those are the words I want to stress—the effect their proposals would have. I should like to ask: What do they actually do? Whom do they ask, and when? Have they a plan for consultation, as the Act implies? And, if so, with whom do they consult? Or do they perhaps say among themselves, "We believe that power stations and pylons are impressively fine things, and therefore they can be placed anywhere without detracting from the beauty of the countryside; so we will produce the best possible designs and, by so doing, we shall be automatically fulfilling our obligations under Section 37"? Or perhaps they say, "We have gone through the motions of taking into account the natural beauty of the countryside, but as it seems to us best to put the installations in this particular place, we shall announce that we have screened it for its amenity value and found that it does not come up to our standards." They may say, "Section 37 refers only to trying to mitigate the effects of our installations. We are 447 going to put them where we want to, but to abide by the wording of this section, we will, if there is an outcry, move a line of pylons off the skyline, taking care to stress the enormous expense involved, or paint the pylons a special colour and go to a great deal of trouble to lay out the surroundings of power stations." This moving of a line or pylon has on rare occasions been achieved, but only after the most fearful struggle, when it might have been accomplished without rancour or bitterness if genuine consultation had taken place in the formative stages.
Much has been done, too, to improve what is now called the "wirescape" of country villages, and I hope that this improvement will continue under the pressure of local planning authorities. But, my Lords, there is a great deal yet to do. For instance, in the two villages nearest my home there is by the church tower in each case a terrible thing high on a post that looks like an outsize domestic gas-meter with whiskers, completely destroying the restful beauty of the scene. Do they perhaps use that well-known argument that people will always jump to make objection when the proposals concern their own close neighbourhoods, and that their protests can therefore be politely ignored as inevitable, selfish reactions? I would suggest, my Lords, that it would be wiser to consider that those people may quite often be right; that it is not always selfishness but knowledge and appreciation of the locality that prompt their protests.
Often used is another equally well-known argument, "We must move with the times: this is progress", without the realisation that one of the most progressive steps we have taken in recent years is belatedly towards the knowledge that the conservation of natural beauty is of importance. Let us not go back to the nineteenth century and the beginning of this, to the era of haphazard, unregulated development. That was the time when that was thought to be progress. Moving with the times and progressing mean, or should mean, seeing that the new conception of the importance of the preservation of national beauty and the 448 avoidance of the mistakes of the past are fully taken into account.
My Lords, it would greatly relieve our minds if we could have an answer to this question: What actually do the Boards and Councils do about consultation, and whose advice do they take? And it would save endless time, worry and pain if such consultation could be insisted upon, as must have been intended by the insertion of Section 37 in the Act, long before the time comes for a public inquiry. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, there is a very prevalent feeling that these inquiries are held not to take into account what we say but in the hope that we shall be satisfied by "blowing off steam". My Lords, we shall never be satisfied until we can be assured that a concerted effort is being made in the earliest stages to co-operate with those whose constant care is for that which remains of the dwindling beauty of the countryside and shores of our land, our native land:This precious stone set in the silver sea.
§ 6.5 p.m.
My Lords, I propose to intervene for only a few moments. I am sure we are all delighted to have before us this Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. It has been a most interesting and informative debate so far. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has made some useful suggestions and pertinent points about amenities. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention particularly to the proposal of Her Majesty's Government to establish an atomic power station in the Solent area, near Newtown and Hemstead Lane. I would say that this is a most unsuitable place in almost every way. First, I imagine that power is not required for the whole of the Isle of Wight. It must be taken to the mainland. And how is this power to be taken to the mainland—by gigantic pylons across the West Solent, or under the sea? And when it gets to the other side, of course, it will have to go through the New Forest. I do earnestly ask Her Majesty's Government to consider this point very carefully before authorising the Electricity Board to set up such a station in such a beautiful area—a station which will undoubtedly destroy the amenities for the public at large.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
My Lords, I also wish to support my noble friend Lord Chorley who initiated this Motion and to assure him that there are many people with him to-day in hoping that he can make some impression on Her Majesty's Government. I think that this debate comes at a very important moment, because at last—at long last—public interest is being made aware of the dangers which are facing our countryside. For a long time there has been a growth of electric cables, of machinery and of industrial development, very often haphazard, unplanned and ugly, which has disfigured very large parts of this country, which, after all, is not such a very big land. I think it is a wholesome sign that at last the national conscience is beginning to feel uneasy about allowing what is often complete devastation of the natural beauty of this country.
When various projects go forward, questions do occasionally arise, purely aesthetic questions, as to whether or not something looks better than something else, and there is a genuine difference of æsthetic opinion. I am not dealing with this. But in the ordinary way when we have intense opposition to some developments or schemes, it is nearly always, as has already been pointed out this afternoon, a matter of finance. The whole thing is an argument of how much one is prepared to pay to safeguard what are very often great features of natural beauty. Unfortunately, as has already been pointed out, ably and much better than I could have pointed it out, in a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, for whose remarks I had great admiration, while the whole question of beauty is something to which we pay lip service, when it comes to actually spending money on it, at once objections begin to be raised.
The noble Earl who spoke for the Government at the beginning of the debate said that we cannot compare things like rockets and so forth with minor schemes of electricity and education; they are not comparable. But, unfortunately, we must make some sort of comparison because we have a national Budget, and so much must go to one thing and so much must go to another. And the great point that I 450 would put to the Government is that I think much too little goes to preserving our amenities and shaping this country as we should like to see it, and too much goes to other things which may be important but which go no way to preserving this country which we love so much. Even looking at this question from the point of view of the lowest common denominator, that of the tourist industry, which is becoming one of the most lucrative, it is a major disaster if this development goes on and if villages are spoiled by bad shops, by terrible advertisements and traffic notices in the wrong place; and then, finally, electricity pylons and such hideous things. I think that local authorities are greatly to blame, but a lead is also needed from the top, from the Government, if we are going to preserve what we all want to preserve.
I also want to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said in his brief speech, about the projected public power station in the Isle of Wight. I think that would be a most disastrous project. I must declare an interest here, because I am President of a society called The Friends for the Preservation of the Solent Area, which is trying to preserve the amenity of what I think is a very beautiful place. We have this one spot in the South of England. There is the New Forest, which is an enormous open area of land where people can camp and enjoy themselves, and there is the Solent itself, which is a great preserve of sailors and yachtsmen; and, after all, it is the gateway of England for Americans and others arriving here. Our society does nothing but combat projects, whether they be for an oil refinery or a sewage disposal scheme, or some such awful thing, which everyone seems to want to do to this area. Now the new project, I understand, is to build an enormous power station on the Isle of Wight. Goodness knows how you are going to get the power off the Island: whether there will be huge pylons erected to carry it across the sea, or whether it will be taken under the water, in which case, I gather, it will be tremendously expensive to insulate the cable properly. Then, having done that, how is the power to be taken across the New Forest? I should like to reinforce what the noble Lord said, and to say that I hope the Government will think 451 and think again before they give consent to the siting of a power station in that area.
It is getting late, and I do not want to keep your Lordships, but I should like to make these points. One thing we should remember is that when a lot of money is spent on some project it is over a long period of years, and not an annual payment. If you bury the line, or whatever it is, it may cost you three times as much, but it will last for a very long time. On the other hand, once a station is built, and the radiating electrical power has been obtained from it, you never get it down again. It remains, and that area is lost for good. Even if it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds, if you divide that into many, many years it is not really such a terrific figure as to justify the desecration of natural beauty. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said, the Government boast that they have initiated an era in which we "never had it so good." All I can say is that I hope that they will not go out of power with people saying about Britain, "We never had it so ugly". I do urge the Government—for it is a matter for them—to consider this question, and to give more weight, more encouragement and more authority in order to keep the beauty of this very lovely land.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, I have been very much impressed by the character of this debate, as I was on the former occasion, a couple of years ago, when the subject was raised in your Lordships' House. It is a matter of primary concern to everybody, I suppose, to preserve the countryside of this country, and I think that in our considerations we ought to remember that that concern is also shared by those who have to take part in the electricity supply industry. I am very conscious that this is a matter affecting what has been very appropriately described as our national heritage. In point of fact, if I had had any doubts on the point, they would have been removed by a booklet that was sent to me some little time ago bearing that title. I turned the booklet over, and I saw the imprint, "The National Benzole Company, Limited." 452 At first I might have made the pardonable error of assuming that that was our national heritage. I found, however, that it contained a collection of views of the National Parks—and very admirable views indeed they were. I presume they were typical views, and I am pleased to say that I could not see a single power line of any kind in any one of the views.
We have to reconcile this subject of industrial development, and particularly that of electrical development, with the preservation of the amenities which are so dear to everybody. Electrical development lies at the heart of the prosperity, present and future, of this country; and I do not think anyone would challenge—or, indeed, would try to limit—its possibilities, looking ahead for many years.
I have a dual interest in this matter: first, there is my own personal interest, which is that of everyone else who loves the countryside; and secondly, there is my interest as a part-time member of the Electricity Council. All your Lordships are aware that in 1957 the industry was reorganised, and in the course of that reorganisation great emphasis was placed upon the autonomy of all the Electricity Boards. There was established an Electricity Council (of which, as I have said, I am a part-time member) but it was quite clearly regarded, and it was so stated by Ministers in this House, as an advisory body without any executive power of any kind in relation to the functions of generation, transmission or distribution. So your Lordships can clearly see that I am not here—indeed, it would be inconsistent, I think, if I tried to act as such—as a spokesman for the industry. It is not my purpose to try to reply in any way to anything concerning the criticism of the day-to-day activities of the Electricity Boards. That has been deliberately excluded from the discussion in another place; and, in any case, if it did so arise, it would, fall to the Ministers to deal with it and not to any member of the Boards or the Council who might be a Member of this House. I shall confine myself entirely to the general arguments based upon information which is publicly available, without reference to those based upon anything of an intimate character affecting the Board's internal work.
453 As all your Lordships know, the industry was transferred to complete public ownership and operation in April, 1948, and the Act of Parliament very clearly set out the duties which fell upon the respective bodies. The main and primary function was to develop an efficient, coordinated and economical system of electricity supply and distribution for all parts of the country except the North of Scotland district. That is the Act as it was in those days. I do ask that some respectful attention be paid to the words, "economical system of distribution". In the legislation which preceded nationalisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has stated in the House this afternoon, the emphasis was upon "a cheap and abundant supply of electricity." Neither of those terms was felt to be absolutely appropriate in the new legislation, first, because of the very great rise in casts, and secondly, because of the obvious restrictions which the newly nationalised industry had to face. There had been no building of power stations during the latter part of the war and an immense amount of arrears had accumulated, which could not be overtaken for several years.
I will not go on with that, on the ground that it is not strictly relevant. But no mention was made in that legislation of amenities. I think that it was taken for granted that no public authority could possibly be oblivious to the importance of the amenities of the countryside. Indeed, one could say with truth that right from the beginning the Electricity Boards, through the then British Electricity Authority and its successor, the Central Electricity Authority, placed amenities very high upon the list.
They appointed three outstanding architects as a consultative panel, one for Scotland, one for England and one for Wales, men of undisputed position in the profession, whose names command respect. In those days, the problem mainly concerned the design of power stations, and it was much later that the newly established super-grid came into the picture. My point here is that, so far as I know, none of the Electricity Boards has ever interpreted narrowly its responsibilities. I myself have stated publicly many times that I never regarded the balance sheet as completely the measure of success. I thought 454 that there were other considerations besides that. But I am pleased to think that not in a single year did the Electricity Authority fail to comply with the Act and to pay their way, and pay their way successfully. But a broader picture was always in the minds of those who were concerned with the guidance of the industry. Many instances could be given of this, but though they are very relevant, I am not going to give them. There are many instances of how the Electricity Boards, for reasons of national interest, deliberately adopted a policy which was not, in strict finance, an economic one.
Indeed, we were mildly reproved by the Herbert Committee, which was set up by the Government to inquire into the organisation and general behaviour of the industry, and it might be interesting to quote the paragraph from the conclusions of that Committee which is relevant to this discussion. They said:The Electricity Act does not require the industry to supply electricity on uneconomic terms to any consumer or class of consumer, nor to conduct itself in such a way that it would have to face higher costs than a private business would face in similar circumstances. The determination of the national interest is the business of the Government. It is not for the industry to embark, in the supposed national interest, on any course other than a purely economic course, unless so instructed by the Minister subject to his responsibility in Parliament. The governing factor in any question of the running of the boards should be that it is their duty to run them as economic concerns and to make them pay.I ask your Lordships to keep those recommendations in mind when we are considering this subject in relation to costs.
From the beginning, the public corporations of all kinds, electricity and others, were deliberately formed so that they could operate as commercial organisations on commercial principles. The decision to appoint them rather than put the nationalised industries under Government Departments operated like the Post Office was for that very purpose. I ask your Lordships to consider whether any business, however large, could possibly stand the enormous increases in costs that would result, if certain suggestions made in this debate were carried out. Until some other announcement of public policy is made by the Government, either directly or through some other committee of inquiry, the boards must keep in mind what was said in the Herbert Report.
455 In the 1957 Act, amenities were specified, on, I think, the initiative of your Lordships' House. This has been referred to this afternoon. But what are the Boards asked to do? The Boards are asked to take into account the effect of their operations on amenities. It is not put as a function. It is not put among the duties of the Boards in the earlier sections of the Act where their functions are defined. It is put in a way which, I think reasonably, states that (as it were) the Boards should not violate the normal canons of decency in respect of amenities in the carrying on of their work. But I ask your Lordships to remember that it was not laid down in the strict way in which the duties of the Boards were defined.
I do not think it would be argued by any reasonable person who is familiar with the conduct of this industry that the Boards have acted outrageously in any respect or disregarded their duties under Section 37 of the Act, which I have just mentioned. The tribute paid in this debate to Sir Charles Hinton is indicative of that. It may be as well for me to repeat what Sir Christopher said at the Press Conference on the Annual Report, where these matters were referred to at some length. He said:We have three problems. Of all our problems, I would put amenity first. Amenity considerations arise mainly in connection with the siting of nuclear power stations and the construction of transmission lines. Of these two, I regard the transmission lines problem as being by far the most difficult and by far the most intractable.That is a public document, not something that is private to myself. Later, Sir Christopher said that he could not see any solution to this problem of how to transmit power economically while at the same time reconciling the amenity interests which so many people desire to be paramount. There is the problem.
The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave who spoke earlier in the debate made clear what certain costs would be if, say, the 275 kv. grid system were put underground. That question was discussed at considerable length, as the noble Lord said, at a meeting which took place on the initiative of the Electricity Generating Board at the Royal Society of Arts.
456 I personally was very happy to hear some of the things that have been said in this debate this afternoon. Clearly the three major offences or difficulties that arise in connection with the preservation of amenities are the sites of nuclear power stations, the 275 kv. transmission lines and the distribution lines. With regard to the sites of nuclear power stations, your Lordships all know that the Government, in my opinion wisely on existing knowledge, have specified that those stations cannot be close to centres of population.
I heard and I read a noble Lord who said in a debate earlier on that he was quite satisfied that these stations ought to be built in our industrial expansion areas; and I wondered to myself on what authority that statement was based, and what knowledge of the operation of nuclear power stations that noble Lord had that others had not. Certainly the Atomic Energy Authority, of which I also happen to be a member, a part-time member, has never postulated that these stations were entirely immune from any kind of radioactive risk. How could they? Who knows? There was an accident at Windscale, for example. That accident, fortunately was not attended with any loss of life or even damage to persons. But your Lordships all remember the stir that it caused. If there had had to be evacuation of population at Windscale it would have been on a much smaller scale and much more controllable than if Windscale had been built close to a centre of population. I think it was a wise decision and one that until greater experience has been obtained ought to be supported.
There has been criticism of the Generating Board for putting one of the nuclear power stations at Trawsfynydd, in the National Park. But, if I remember rightly, while there were objections raised by national amenity bodies, about the location of that station, there was absolute and wholesale support on the part of the residents in the area, who, indeed, went to extreme lengths to demonstrate their hostility to those who objected to the station being placed at Trawsfynydd. That is all attested to publicly in reports which appeared in the Press, and I am sure your Lordships remember it.
457 But if we want a tribute, I need not go further than the Chairman of the National Parks Commission, who indicated his view of what had been done, once the site had been determined, to try and make that station an agreeable one. Lord Strang said:Sir William's"—he is referring to Sir William Holford, to whom the noble Earl referred earlier as an outstanding architect and a member of the Landscape Institution or Association (I do not know which it is, but he is prominent in that sphere)—last intervention in the discussion showed what care is being lavished on the project at Trawsfynydd. Now we may or may not agree that it was right to choose that site—the National Parks Commission have a view about that, but I am a referee today"—he was referring there to the fact that he was taking the chair at that meeting—and not a participant—but we should be ungracious if we did not admit that once a site is chosen the Generating Board do take very great pains to see that the best possible use is made of it.I think that is a generous and unstinted tribute to the Board in discharging its duties.
With regard to the 275 kv. grid, why was that grid chosen? I was as much responsible as anybody for that decision. There were two broad methods that could have been used. First of all, far more electricity was being demanded, and future forecasts showed that it would be on a very big scale, and it became necessary to reinforce (to use the technical term) the existing 132 kv. grid. What were we to do? The calculations were that we should need to carry, in a period of about 15 to 20 years, four times as much electricity over the grid lines as was then being transmitted. Were we to build four additional sets of grids; or were we to step up the voltage to 275,000, for example—and in some cases to 380,000 volts—in order to reduce the number of towers and the number of lines? Which is the method that would have been chosen by your Lordships if you had found yourselves in that position?
We were advised technically by the best experts that could be obtained that, as the whole history of electrical development in electrical transmission was to higher and higher voltages—in some cases 500,000 volts was being used 458 in other countries—it was a commonsense proceeding to step up the voltage. We chose a voltage of 275,000 because of the many step-downs there are in this country, and because of the fact that we have no great lengths running to many miles to transmit the current before it has to be transformed down again. At the same time, great care was taken for what we regarded as essential future routes where large quantities of current would have to be transmitted. We chose to build that part of the grid so that it could be raised to virtually 400,000 volts; and some parts of the grid are now in operation, although, of course, at the lower voltage.
Surely that was a common-sense decision on any ground. And once a decision had been reached to build a higher voltage line, the higher towers had to be accepted, for the simple reason that, as everybody knows, you must have wide clearances between these high voltage lines: the lines swing about in all kinds of weather and it would be very dangerous if the clearances were reduced in any way. That meant having higher towers. In order that the towers should be reasonably designed, we put out to tender to a number of companies who are specialists in this work various suggestions for the types of tower that would be acceptable, and we presented their designs, from an aesthetic and amenity point of view, to our panel of architects about whom I have already told your Lordships. This has all been explained in our Annual Report, but I am experienced enough to know that the last thing anybody ever reads is an Annual Report of a public corporation.
In taking the lines overhead we followed the actions of our predecessors, the Central Electricity Board; and they, in turn, followed the practice which, so far as I know, is adopted in every country in the world. I would challenge any noble Lord to tell me of one country in which the main transmission lines are put underground irrespective of the voltage. Is it Switzerland? Is it Italy? Those are countries that depend more than this country does upon tourists, and yet have never known of tourists being kept away because of the offensive towers that are found carrying the transmission lines in those two countries. I have been in Russia, and I have recently been in 459 Australia and New Zealand, and I say that it is quite universal to have the lines running overhead. I would say this, too, in passing: that I know of no other country that takes quite the same amount of care to avoid having overhead lines bordering on its cities or its suburbs. I have seen many times in the suburban areas of other countries as many as nine lines, running on towers, and I counted this morning in a photograph which appeared in a technical article on this question of transmission, in the heart of Toronto, eleven overhead lines on poles right in the centre of the city. That is by no means unique if one looks to the United States or Canada.
I was pleased to hear that it is not proposed that the 275 kv. grid should be underground. This is the first time I have heard it. I have read practically every publication that has come my way on this subject, but this is the first time I have heard it declared in such categorical terms that no demand is put forward for the undergrounding of the high voltage 275 kv. line. I am sure that when the Electricity Boards hear that, they will be relieved. On the siting of the lines, I am as sensitive as anybody to the ugliness of several transmission or distribution lines running side by side. Is it recognised that 26 per cent. of the total area of this country has already been designated or recommended either as National Parks or as places of particular beauty? It follows logically that, if these areas are to be avoided, the channels through which it is possible to take the transmission lines are considerably narrower. So far as I knew when I was chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, our way-leave officers were worried to death as to where they could find sites which complied with all the necessary conditions. In this country, small as it is and highly industrialised, it is becoming nearly impossible to find lines that suit the broad ideas of amenities.
Landscape artists are employed by the Generating Board and, after all is said and done, the profession of landscape artist is a comparatively new one. They are feeling their way, and I am bound to say that I still believe that in this realm of amenities much depends upon 460 personal opinion rather than the laying down of any canons of procedure. At the same time, it is a good thing that this has emerged, and I am pleased to see the Electricity Boards taking advantage of it.
A point has been raised about consultation with such bodies as the C.P.R.E. That was raised strongly this afternoon by two noble Lords, and it is a matter for the existing authorities to say whether they find that a bad or a good thing. I know that informal consultations do take place from time to time, and the planning authorities are always brought in at an early date. It was on my own suggestion that that practice was adopted, and it was against the advice of our experts who said, "The moment you announce you are even considering a point of any kind, or that a line should go in a particular way, you will find opposition arising at once. The moment you make it known that you are even examining a site, or that you are taking trial borings to find whether the foundations are good enough, before ever a decision or report has been made on a site you will find objections being raised in the Press and by amenity bodies of various kinds."
§ A NOBLE LORD: Why not?
§ LORD CITRINE
I am not objecting, but it makes the work of the people much more difficult. After all, the time factor does count a little in electrical development. It has been publicly stated that the delay which took place over the line in North Kent—and the probability is that that application was granted two years after its initiation—may lead to some of those Medway towns being without electricity on occasions during next winter if it happens to be a severe one.
I was impatient to a degree when I found the number of authorities who had to be consulted before we could do anything in the electrical world. And I was not alone. A delegation came over from the Anglo-American Productivity Council—your Lordships all remember those exchange visits which were made—and seventeen electrical experts visited this country. They expressed astonishment that the supply of electricity in this country was hedged in with so many consultations and restrictions, and they 461 made it clear in their subsequent report that they viewed this as a very serious delaying factor.
With regard to the distribution lines, as the noble Earl has said, these have become more obtrusive because of the development of rural electrification. As rural electrification spreads further afield of course the lines are bound to be noticeable. They are on poles, and they are low down like the telegraph poles. I do not think they can be considered as obtrusive as the higher voltage lines. It should be remembered in this connection that the charges for electricity to the individual rural consumer are at the same rate as to the urban dweller. That in itself was something of a revolution, because at one time, prior to the industry becoming nationalised, the charges were much higher. We want to maintain that sort of thing. This is the least remunerative section of the work of the Electricity Boards. All this has been stated in pamphlet form and elsewhere; if it had not I should not be repeating it here. In the case of rural distribution lines you may get only ten consumers to the mile. In the case of an urban installation you may get 300 to the mile. That difference in cost has to be met somehow, and without telling tales out of school there is no doubt at all that rural electrification has been subsidised by other consumers in other areas.
I was impressed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who, because of his long connection with the industry as chairman of the Electricity Commission is very much alive to this problem. I have no doubt at all that his suggestion for selective undergrounding of the distribution lines will be taken into full consideration by the Boards. So far as my knowledge goes, the Boards have not been so unresponsive as has been represented, and I myself knew of cases, during my chairmanship, where the lines were put underground in beauty spots—in the Lake District, for example. It is essentially, as the noble Earl said, a matter of balance. The success of these industries depends largely upon the price of electricity and the efficiency with which the service is maintained. Our industries, together with domestic consumers, need more electricity year by year. It is a matter of trying to keep a balance between this 462 and the necessary aspect of amenity that has been raised in the Motion to-day. Do let us remember this. This country still labours under the handicap of its workpeople having only one-third of the horsepower available to them that is available to the workers of America. We have a long way to go in the extension of electricity development before we can bridge that gap.
I know it is not easy, and as I have occupied the position myself I am not sneering at other people who occupy it. It is easy for people not directly responsible for decisions affecting costs to brush them on one side. I would ask noble Lords, if they had been members of Boards and they were presented with estimates which showed that the costs in one particular case were five, eight or fifteen times as high as another alternative, a reasonable alternative, whether they would accept that higher cost? Would they feel they were carrying out their duties if they did? That is the kind of question I had to deal with many times.
Of course, it is said, "Well, you can pay for it; you have a big surplus". That has been said this afternoon. But is it realised that the surplus is modest in relation to the capital employed, and secondly that it is mortgaged for a specific purpose? For years the Electricity Boards have been pressed to meet more of their capital expenditure out of the proceeds of the industry, and something very like a pledge was given to Parliament, when the last Bill for increasing the borrowing power of the Electricity Boards was brought forward, that the Boards would in fact do that and get up to, I think, financing 48 per cent. of their capital expenditure from the proceeds of the industry. So this larger surplus that accrued in last year's published accounts and which may accrue in the current year is earmarked for another purpose, and a very necessary purpose, too. If the amenity societies have got their eyes on that surplus, do not forget that the trade unions have got their eyes on it also.
I have no doubt that the Boards will carefully consider everything that has been said here in this very responsible debate: every speaker I have heard who has taken part has I think put the case in a completely unexceptionable and, to 463 me, impressive way. But I ask noble Lords to think that the people who serve the electricity suppliers and have to be engaged in these operations of way-leaving, and that sort of thing, are not vandals. They are citizens like everybody else, and the tributes paid to-day show that they carry out their work responsibly. But somewhere and sometime the Boards will have to ask the question: is it fair for the consumers of electricity to pay the entire increased costs that the industry may have to incur?
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD BRAYE
My Lords, I do not propose to say anything more this evening about amenities. Time is getting on, and we have already had, I think, excellent information on that subject. But we have just heard a lot about economy of electricity. I have no doubt that there are schemes now for large nuclear generating stations to be put up in the future. Could we consider the future in the light of nuclear development? It may be possible in a few years—who knows?—to generate sufficient electricity to light and feed a town of, say, half a million people in a chamber perhaps no larger than this one. It is extraordinary to think of our inventions nowadays and the progress made in inventions. Might it not be feasible, instead of going forward with this enormously expensive programme of overhead lines, to hold it up for the time being, provided that we can get sufficient electricity to carry on with for the time being, and see what the future may have in store for us? I do not know that I am right in saying it, but I believe that already extremely interesting experiments have been carried out for the production of electricity in a very small space. I can particularly draw your attention there to some of the recent American submarines which have been launched and which are very successful. My Lords, I will not detain you, but I should like that thought to be in your minds, especially at times when we are considering economy.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, it has been a long debate, and most of the points, I think, have been made, and eloquently made, by others. I want, 464 with reasonable brevity, to make quite clear where I stand, to emphasise some of the points that have been made and to express a very strong hope that certain points will be considered and acted upon by Her Majesty's Government.
May I say at the outset that I am at least as strong a supporter of electrical development, and as conscious of the benefits that it can confer, both on industry and on the standard of living of the people of this country, as anybody who has spoken in this debate. That does not make me less vigorous in my criticism where I think that these services are being performed with unnecessary destruction of uniquely valuable things. In this, at any rate, in my welcome to electricity and my recognition of what it can confer on this age, I take a directly different view from that taken by that excellent Tory, Dr. Johnson, who, it may be remembered, as my friend Sir William Holford recently reminded us, objected to canals. Now we greatly admire those great works and the masterpieces of Telford which we connect with them. I agree, too, that there is nothing intrinsically ugly in a great power station or in pylons that can stride rather nobly across the scene. These things are capable of beauty, but they are also capable of being put in the wrong place.
The problem really for a civilised community is not to do without these things, but so to place them that they confer their great benefits on our people without destroying unnecessarily things of the greatest value. May I, in passing, defend my noble friend who has already intervened for the Government from a suspicion in certain quarters that he lacked sympathy with the cause of the countryside. I do not think that anybody who knows him or what he has done can really share that view. What we must do is to see that these great works, the power stations and the transmission lines, injure the scene as little as possible. This will depend on their siting, on the sites chosen for the power stations and the routes chosen for the transmission lines.
I was delighted when my noble friend commended to the House the recent conference that took place under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Strang, in which admirable papers were read by Sir Christopher Hinton, the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating 465 Board, and Sir William Holford, a part-time member, and an admirably chosen member, of that Board. Their papers were followed by a most valuable discussion. Later in my speech I shall quote something said by Sir William Holford because, especially after the commendation of it by the Minister, I should like it to get even greater publicity. Hansard has an even wider distribution than the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts—though anybody who wishes to read the two speeches in full will find them set out in the current February issue.
I have often pointed out, here and in another place, that the English landscape is uniquely beautiful, but its 'beauty is almost uniquely vulnerable. In this, it contrasts greatly with great scenery elsewhere. The Rocky Mountains in Canada are very beautiful. If the work of man anywhere there is unworthy or trivial, it can no doubt do some damage, but it would be so trivial in those surroundings that not much harm would be done. But contrast that with such beauty as that of the Sussex Downs—small in scale, but so subtly beautiful as to be, I think, among the greatest beauties in all nature. It is as easy to ruin them as it would be for a lunatic to ruin a picture in a great gallery by taking a hammer or chisel and destroying it. The English scene is vulnerable and it is greatly valued.
Now let us take these two questions of location—first of all the location of the power stations, because on this much else will depend. Once you have settled the location of the power stations a good deal follows from their choice. The plea has been made from many sources, both in this House and outside it, that the planning and the consultation shall take place very early indeed. May I remind the House of what happened at Dungeness? In due course there was an inquiry. But what had preceded that inquiry? Admittedly, the siting of the station at Dungeness was affected by the terminal point of the cross-Channel electricity cable but on the siting of the terminal point of the cross-Channel cable nobody had been consulted at all. Its gene-al position had been decided without inquiry and without any discussion with the planning authority. Then the position of this terminal point, decided without any inquiry or consulta- 466 tion, was taken as an argument for having the power station at Dungeness.
Again, there have been two public inquiries relating to Dungeness and the line from Dungeness to Canterbury. But in what order were those inquiries held? They first had the inquiry into the line from Dungeness to Canterbury; then they had the inquiry on whether they should have a power station at Dungeness, at which of course the objections to the line were inadmissible in evidence. There has been another development. It is now known that there will be a line running westward from the power-station near Rye and through some of the best parts of East Sussex, on which at the inquiry, nobody for the Electricity Authority could say anything about its route. If anything had been known about the route of that line, no doubt that would have been a further ground of objection at the inquiry.
I served as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and I know something of the difficulties of the task and the difficulties that the Government have to face. I do not say that, if what I have described had not added to the difficulties, the Government might not still have come to the conclusion that Dungeness was the right site, but there would have been much more evidence available and it might not have been necessary to take that particular site at all.
I will not enter into any discussion on placing a nuclear power station in a National Park. I accept the argument of the Government, because we are not in a position to dispute it, that, if you have these nuclear power stations, it may be necessary to place them at a certain distance from populated districts. In certain cases that might involve, though I can see how much it is deplored, placing them even in a National Park. I agree that, once the decision has been made, Sir William Holford and his colleagues do admirable work in seeing that the works that are then put up do as little damage as possible and may indeed, as was said by Lord Mottistone, in themselves be rather splendid things.
I pass from the power stations, the location of which, on the whole, I am not in a position to dispute, though I make the most earnest plea for the problem to be considered as a whole and 467 well in advance of all these inquiries. Nothing could have been clearer from this speech of Sir William Holford, to which so much reference has been made, than that he would very much welcome that, as soon as it becomes possible. Let me pass now to what I chiefly wish to bring before the House—namely, the location of the transmission lines. I deal first of all with the super grid. Here the line taken is all-important. We all realise that, with negligible, if any, exceptions, these transmission lines must go overhead, and of course they must have these high towers. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, spent a great deal of his speech in answering a charge that had never been made.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, I must say, if the noble Lord will permit me, that I did not answer a charge that had never been made. The charge had been made several times, and in this House.
§ LORD CONESFORD
Well, I had not heard it made in this House, and certainly I had not heard it made in this debate. But if I am wrong on the facts, the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, has made the point and I am not differing from it. I agree absolutely that the super-grid has to go overhead on high towers, of the design of which I have no complaint whatever. The main point made in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and others, and the point which I am making, is that the route chosen is all-important. You can choose a route which will do next to no damage, and you can choose a route, alternatively, which will do the greatest possible damage.
That brings me to the Kent experience. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, actually understated his case when he gave your Lordships the list of some of those who wanted the other line. I am not going to give the complete list, but they included the County Council, the National Parks Commission, the Nature Conservancy, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Royal Fine Art Commission. Considering the line taken by the Royal Fine Art Commission, I was rather surprised when my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said, "We always consult the Commission". Of course, if one consults the Commission and then does entirely the 468 opposite of what they say, the consultation is not as satisfactory as might at first sight appear.
I believe that the reason why the Kent decision has caused so much alarm and despondency is that virtually every authority on amenity was on one side and the other side prevailed. Two inspectors heard the inquiry, one from the Ministry of Power and one from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The representative of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government agreed with all the authorities I have mentioned and many others. The other, the engineer of the Ministry of Power, took the opposite view; and I gathered from my noble friend this afternoon that it was on the grounds of cost, although the engineer stated that it was on the grounds of amenity. He gave a view of amenity different from that taken by every other authority on amenity and by the representative of the other Minister who was principally concerned with amenity. I do not profess to have visited the area recently, but I am sufficiently modest to think that, where there is such a volume of expert evidence for one view and a lone voice on the other side, it is a rather startling action by the Minister to agree with the lone voice and overrule all these other authorities.
I interrupted my noble friend, when he was making his speech, to ask him if he would agree with the principles laid down by Sir William Holford for the siting of these lines, in the speech he had praised—because I thought those principles were admirable, though they are so frequently ignored. May I now read what Sir William Holford said:As I see them, the basic rules to keep in mind are broadly as follows:
- (1) avoid altogether the major areas of highest amenity value, by so planning the general route of the line in the first place, even if the total mileage is somewhat increased in consequence;
- (2) avoid smaller areas of high amenity value, or scientific interest, by deviation; provided that this can be done without using too many angle towers, i.e., the more massive structures which are used when lines change direction;
- (3) other things being equal, choose the most direct line, with no sharp changes of direction and thus with fewer angle towers;
- (4) choose tree and hill backgrounds in preference to sky backgrounds wherever possible; and when the line has to cross a
469 ridge, secure this opaque background as long as possible and cross obliquely when a dip in the ridge provides an opportunity. Where it does not, cross directly, preferably between belts of trees;
- (5) prefer moderately open valleys with woods, where the apparent height of towers will be reduced, and views of the line will be broken by trees;
- (6) in country which is flat and sparsely planted, keep the high voltage lines as far as possible independent of smaller lines, converging routes, distribution poles, and other masts, wires and cables, so as to avoid a concatenation or 'wirescape';
- (7) approach urban areas through industrial zones, where these exist; and when pleasant residential and recreational land intervenes between the approach line and the substation, go carefully into the comparative costs of undergrounding, for lines other than those of the highest voltage.To this rough guide which can never become a formula, because each line has to be considered in great detail and on its merits, I should like to add, finally, a preference of my own."—and may I say, my Lords, that I share this preference of Sir William Holford, and I associate myself with what he says—I think it is more worth while to clean up a large number of small untidy areas, where many people are aware of the clutter surrounding them, and therefore adopt the attitude—'Nobody else cares what our place looks like, so why should I'—than to attempt under-grounding of the high voltage lines. These, although they intrude on natural scenery, do so with a certain dignity. The smaller lines could sometimes be undergrounded with advantage.So we have, on the face of it, in this rightly commended speech of Sir William Holford, a definite advocacy of putting lines underground in certain cases—not the super-grid but certain other lines—and not throughout their length but where it really matters. Why should we destroy our villages? There is no technical necessity, because neither the Germans nor the Americans do it. If they can solve the problem, why is it beyond the wit of authorities in this country? Of course it is not. All that is wanted is a determination that the English scene is worth saving. That is all that is wanted.
About a quarter of a century has passed since I first made an angry and impassioned speech—I was then capable of doing that—in another place, which received wider publicity than any other speech that I have ever delivered, and I got a great deal of correspondence to 470 support me from places at home and abroad. But it was then thought rather odd of me to raise this subject on a Vote about the Ministry of Health, as it then was. The other day my honourable friend, Mr. William Deedes, in another place, put down a Motion on this specific subject—the preservation of the countryside—and he got wide support from every possible quarter.
Things are moving. We are not the starry-eyed idealists who can be always turned aside or ridden over roughshod. Now that my only contribution to public life is anger, now that I am that ridiculous object, an Angry Old Man, I will turn it to such use as I can.
Dealing with clutter of wires, I mentioned what has been done in Germany and America to avoid overhead transmission lines in villages, but the clutter has been cleared up here, in certain places. The other day Petersfield received an award from the Civic Trust for doing nothing else than clearing up this litter of wires. That can be done and is worth doing.
Now I come to the final matter on which I have something to say—Section 37 of the Electricity Act, 1957; and I assure the noble Lord, the Minister who is to reply, that this is my final point. The noble Lord, Lord Citrine, seemed to think that the legal obligations imposed under that section were somehow rather less important because they were dealt with in Section 37 and not in one of the earlier sections of the Act. Speaking as a rather decayed lawyer, I do not think that that is very good law. People have said something about the origin of Section 37. It resulted from an Amendment, and Amendments to Amendments, and was supported in every quarter of the House. I made a speech on it on May 20 of that year, and finally we got this Section 37. I must remind the House of what is said in this section: The various Boardsshall each take into account"—I repeat, "shall" each take into account—any effect which the proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside or on any such flora, fauna, features, buildings or objects.That is an absolute obligation. It is an obligation to take into account. The section does not say, "shall take into 471 account if it is no more expensive to do so"; it says, "shall take into account". Let me at once relieve my noble friends who represent the Government by assuring them that, of course, I am not saying that that means that cost is a completely irrelevant consideration. It does not mean that. But it does mean that the mere fact that the better scheme which gives consideration to amenity is more expensive than the one that does not, should not preclude its adoption, if the cost is not wholly unreasonable.
Various noble Lords, particularly my noble and learned friend Lord Birkett and Lord Mottistone, have asked what steps are taken to bring this to the notice of the various area boards, the way leave officers and others. The C.P.R.E. have had the experience at these inquiries that very often the witness who is giving evidence for the electricity authority concerned is quite unaware—and admits he is unaware—of the existence of this section of the Act. That is a fact. My noble and learned friend Lord Birkett mentioned some of the things said at the recent inquiry in Pembrokeshire. I think that no decision has yet been given there. I hope that the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Birkett, at any rate—it would be too much to ask that notice should be taken of my remarks—will be given some consideration by the Minister before he gives his decision. There have been cases where the electricity authority have admitted that the right course would be to take some different course from that which they are proposing to take, but say that that right course would be more expensive, sometimes by a comparatively small amount; and they have then said, "Are you prepared to find the money? Otherwise we will not do it." In my respectful submission, there they are doing something which is contrary to a direct obligation imposed by Parliament, and I hope they will not do it again. I am not talking, I think, legal nonsense, because I seem to have the support of my noble and learned friend Lord Birkett.
My Lords, I conclude by saying this. I support electrical development at least as strongly as anybody else in the House or as the Government do, but I beg them to see that it shall be carried out with 472 early consultation and without unnecessary destruction of amenities. By early planning and by observing, I think, the law as it now stands, great injury can be avoided, and can be avoided without any unreasonable cost.
§ 7.25 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, your Lordships will be disappointed, I know, that my noble friend Lord Mills, who was to have replied to this debate, has been unavoidably engaged elsewhere and that I have had to take his place. The hour is late and in the circumstances I feel that, unless the issue of this interesting debate is to become in its last minutes the unelectrifying effect of Lord St. Oswald on the natural atmosphere of your Lordships' House, I had better be extremely brief and keep strictly, or fairly strictly, to the specific points raised in the debate. But first I should like to point out that although I shall have to emphasise in what I have to say the importance of electrification rather than other amenities such as the beauty of the countryside, that is in fact the luck of the draw.
Both kinds of amenity are immensely important; both are in fact vital to the civilisation in which we live. Perhaps the latter is more clearly and more permanently in our minds, particularly of those of us who live in the country and who are proud of the countryside in which we live. If my noble and learned friend Lord Birkett is disappointed, as he was by my noble friend, to find me laying stress on the importance of power, I hope he will not consider me power drunk. I would say, in passing, that I am a member of the National Trust—a donor member of the National Trust—and a member of the C.P.R.E. and admire their work as much as anyone. I am not, in these words, apologising for the part I am to play in this debate tonight. There are, I repeat, two kinds of amenity that we are discussing. There is the natural amenity and the amenity that electricity brings into the home, to which my noble friend drew attention in the closing passages of his speech.
Perhaps I should try to take various points, not necessarily, I fear, in the order in which they came, but in the order in which I feel capable of answering them. I was very happy to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, express his appreciation 473 of a great deal of the work of the Board. He said, however, that what were needed were not expressions of sympathy from the Government Bench but examples of action taken. In fact, examples of action taken are not lacking. I believe that my noble friend Lord Braye, were he still in his seat, could recall an action near his own home which was taken as a result of a request to shift a line of pylons to the advantage of the countryside and the local amenity. Lord Hurcomb said also that it should be possible to discuss with competent authorities the questions involved in a plan to bring electricity into or across an area. But, my Lords, those competent authorities are not lacking. For instance, the C.P.R.E., to which I referred, must regard itself, and I should think be regarded, as a competent authority; and it will always step in and very quick step in, wherever it feels its influence is needed—and its influence is very considerable and certainly has the ear of my right honourable friend.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, asked what instructions were issued to officers pursuant on Section 37, to which so much reference has been made this evening. In fact, no general instruction can be issued in a matter of this kind, because each case must be dealt with on its merits. All officers are, of course, fully alive to the provisions of this Section 37, as they are to all sections of the Act, and I feel that it is quite unfair to suggest that only lip service is given to the value of natural beauty. In fact the Ministry favours an inquiry when anyone among the interested parties wishes to have an inquiry. An inquiry is in fact never refused if parties are present desiring it.
So far as the instructions to officers are concerned, it has for some time been the practice of my right honourable friend, and of his predecessor, to confer at regular intervals with the Chairman of the Generating Board and with the Chairman of the Electricity Board; and if it had been brought to his notice that there were complaints that Section 37 was being unfaithfully interpreted or ignoed, I am perfectly certain that he would pass those complaints on to the two Chairmen and that action would be taken, and there is a channel of complaint which would be effective.
474 My noble friend Lord Conesford called for looking ahead and, as I understood it, for a more comprehensive and forward-thinking plan. Now it is quite clear—and I think everyone has agreed—that the super-grid system cannot be designed as an amenity as far as the future is concerned. The amenity factor from this point of view is, however, very much in mind, and remains in the mind of all who design and who are responsible for carrying electricity across the country—and most especially in the mind of the Minister who is, as has been explained by my noble friend, immediately and finally responsible for decisions taken. I think that if I gave a thumbnail history of the industry I could go some way to answer my noble friend's point, but I fear that even a thumbnail history would take up too much of your Lordships' time at this hour. The fact is that now the Board is looking forward. Until now, it has been very difficult—and I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, will agree that it has been difficult—because new methods have been introduced. The introduction of electricity from nuclear power introduced an entirely new factor into the production of electricity, and it was very difficult at that time to look forward as far as my noble friend would wish.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, among his other worries and anxieties, complained of the disfigurement caused in National Parks and in the countryside generally by overhead lines, and nobody has sought to deny that some disfigurement is caused. It is regrettable but inevitable; and I insist that it is kept to a minimum. If the country is to have an efficient and economic power system, electric cables must cross the country. The statutory safeguards are much stricter than may have appeared from the speeches of certain noble Lords today. Each overhead line requires the specific consent of the Minister of Power and reference to the local authorities and the local planning authorities who are concerned. If they raise any objection, a hearing or public inquiry must be held before the Minister reaches a decision. Local authorities normally consult the societies interested in the preservation of amenities when they are in any doubt; the Minister of Power consults the National Parks Commission about 475 all the lines in areas of interest to it; and the Minister of Power consults the Ministry of Housing and Local Government before reaching a decision whenever there is a substantial objection.
So far as statistics are concerned, I can say that out of 7,000 applications, more or less, received each year, only a very small proportion—that is to say, 20 or 30—become subject to objections, and of these about 25 per cent. have in fact been upheld by the Minister during the last few years. There is the machinery of consultation, which was called into question during the course of the debate. Of one thing I feel quite sure, and that is that it is utterly wrong that evasive tactics producing rancour, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, should exist. I am sure that if he said so he must have some example in mind, but if he would make a case of where this happened and if he would care to show it to me, I would most gladly—or, rather, sorrowfully, but at the same time willingly—take it to my right honourable friend, where I can assure the noble Lord it would receive the closest and most serious attention.
Many noble Lords spoke of the need of underground cables, and in this respect I think little justice was done, on the whole, to my noble friend by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, when he intervened and said that my noble friend, when he talked about under-grounding, was putting up an "Aunt Sally" which could be easily knocked down because nobody in fact believed in undergrounding. In fact, as was proved in the course of the debate, I should have said that the majority of noble Lords spoke substantially in favour of undergrounding.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord must distinguish between the high-powered grids and the lower powered ones.
LORD ST. OSWALD
It was not my impression that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, distinguished between them when he rose to interrupt my noble friend.
§ LORD CONESFORD
To be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, he intervened when my noble friend speaking for the Government was giving the com- 476 parative cost of placing the super-grid underground. I would be as eager as anybody to defend the noble Earl from any charge of being indifferent to the countryside, but he was raising the question of placing the super-grid underground.
My Lords, may I perhaps put this matter straight? I was mentioning the cost of the super-grid, and 'before I could get on to the cost of undergrounding the distribution lines the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, had intervened.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, in this question, strictly speaking, the Minister has no power to order the Electricity Board to put a line underground but there are cases where, at the outset, the Minister refuses his consent for an overhead line, and in such cases the Board is left with the alternative of dropping the scheme or of using underground cable. Now I am not picking a quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, but It seems to me that he described this as if it were a sort of terrible pistol pointed to the head of the consumer, as a genus, saying "If we cannot have it our way, you are not going to get it at all." The question of economics, which I am not going into after the extremely informed speech of the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, does come into it.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I really do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but the case I quoted, in Pembrokeshire, was one which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, developed at great length. After listening to what he said. I should think there could be no question about the rights of that particular case. That was the only point.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My impression was that the noble Lord was speaking far more generally than that. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, also spoke of the unfortunate impact of the super-grid on green belts and other empty spaces, and he put forward the opinion that, where possible, grids should be guided clear of green belts. With that view, naturally, everyone must be in sympathy; but the problem is that, self-evidently, a green belt may offer the only possible route for a super-grid line. In a built-up area it is exceptionally difficult to find sites for the tower foundations, while the 477 problem of stringing and maintaining the conductors over houses and rooftops is obvious, and sometimes presents insoluble difficulties. Sometimes it is possible to move lines in the other direction, away from a green belt and out into open country, but quite frequently in this way they intrude into an area of still greater landscape value than the green belt itself.
I have lost count of the number of noble Lords who have mentioned the super-grid line in North Kent, the North-fleet and Canterbury line. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was particularly indignant about it. I always enjoy his indignation, but I seldom have to reply to it. In the course of negotiations there was a great deal of disagreement on this grid line. The generating Board proposed a route South of the Medway towns. The Kent County Council, with the support of the C.P.R.E. and other bodies proposed a route to the north. The northern route would have involved crossing the Medway Estuary at a cost of £600,000. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, thinks that an insignificant sum in comparison to the loss of amenity; but, of course, it must be added to the cost of the production of electricity, both in capital outlay, which is considerable, and in maintenance costs which have to be placed indirectly on the consumers.
This line was also opposed, as has been mentioned, by the Borough of Gillingham, which felt that it would spoil the amenities of their riverside district; and their view also had to be taken into account. After very careful consideration my right honourable friend decided reluctantly, together with my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, on the southern route. His reluctance was because of the admitted effect it could have on some beautiful parts of Kent, but it was not a decision arrived at casually or willingly. It was simply that he considered that the alternative would be worse.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, mentioned also the line across Loch Awe as a rumour. I am sorry, from his point of view, to tell him that the rumour is accurate. The Secretary of State has recently consented to overhead transmission lines crossing Loch Awe from Taynuilt to Inveraray. This proposal 478 was acceptable to the planning authority and the Amenity Committee set up under the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943, and the land owners granted way-leaves. No objections were received from the public when the proposal was advertised, as it had to be by Statute, through the local Press. Before giving his consent the Secretary of State entered into a personal discussion with the Board in order to satisfy himself that there was no alternative route for the line. To substitute an underground cable would cost an extra £50,000. Its maintenance would be extremely difficult. Pontoons and special equipment would be necessary to locate power faults, and repairs, apart from taking much longer, would be much more expensive. This is the first time in the fifteen years of the Board's life that the crossing of a loch has been found to be necessary, and there is no reason to think that another case of its kind will ever eventuate.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, could the noble Lord confirm, or otherwise, the rumour about the height of these pylons, which was given to me as 200 feet. That seems an excessive height.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I am afraid that I shall have to write to the noble Lord. I have not that piece of information with me tonight. I am sorry.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, had an anxiety about the public inquiry procedure. He felt the need for an independent inspectorate. I should point out that the Franks Committee did not recommend that inspectors who held planning inquiries should be independent of the Government. They did recommend, it is true, that they should form a separate corps attached to the Lord Chancellor's office, but this proposal did not receive the support of the Government and was not accepted in full by the Government. Instead, as perhaps, the noble Lord knows, the appointment and dismissal of inspectors who hold inquiries will be subject to the concurrence of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. The suggestion that special cases should be looked into by senior members of the Parliamentary Bar is one naturally which will be looked at with interest by my noble and learned friend, but the 479 noble Lord will not expect me to comment on it to-night.
There is a question on which I know some noble Lords feel deeply; that is, that sometimes an offer can be made by the Board to take a line underground if the local community or interested party will, so to speak, pay the difference. This is regarded as to some extent iniquitous. Whether a line should go underground or not is a matter for separate judgment in every case, and when the Boards themselves decide to put them underground they usually bear all or a substantial part of the additional cost. In cases where they are required by other persons to put lines underground, it is true that they may require a contribution from those persons or parties. In all cases the Board have to decide whether they would be justified in charging the additional cost to the general body of consumers or to the individual consumer being afforded a new supply, either by direct contribution or by minimum revenue guarantees. This is a point which I cannot possibly make as effectively as the noble Lord, Lord Citrine did. The Boards also have a statutory duty under Section 2 of the Act, which has been invoked by more than one noble Lord, to provide an economic supply to all consumers, and they have to strike a proper balance between their various statutory duties. This balance of duties they have to take, and do take, extremely seriously.
In opening his speech my noble friend said that he did not think that there would be any real cleavage of opinion in the course of this debate, and I do not think that there has been. However, I thought that at certain oratorical heights the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, implied that this question was divided between the vandals and the æsthetes or naturelovers—the "green and pleasant land" party and the "dark Satanic mill" party, with himself representing the former and the Minister of Power representing the latter. Although the noble Lord referred kindly to my right honourable friend at the end of one passage, in that particular passage he has said that he doubted his capacity ex officio to appreciate, or to take into proper account, the value of the beauty of nature. Perhaps that was 480 a false impression but I remember that he used the phrase—His main interest is the promotion of electrical power.As I understood that, the noble Lord implied that my right honourable friend did not bring a fair mind to bear on the question of amenities. My right honourable friend is a Yorkshireman, like myself, and I am sure that he would not concede, any more than I would, that a more beautiful part of our Islands existed. To betray that beauty, I am certain would be abhorrent to him.
One is bound to recognise that the benefits of our age are sometimes achieved at some æsthetic sacrifice. Nobody would regard a television aerial as a thing of any particular beauty. The West Riding, in which I live, is less beautiful than it was 200 years ago, but in those 200 years the standard of living has gone up enormously, and is continuing to go up, because the smoking factories of Halifax and Sheffield stand where there were once green hills. I do not think that for the purpose of restoring the countryside any noble Lord would wish to go back to "the good old days", in that sense. Our task is to keep the necessary means of electrification as unobtrusive as possible within the economic demands of the service.
Many noble Lords have quoted Section 37 of the 1957 Act, but the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, quoted back Section 2 of that Act with, I thought, immense effect. Although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, when referring to these sections, said that there should be no clash between them, I do not, indeed, think there is a clash: it is not a question of clash but a question of compromise between the two duties. Beauty is not ignored. It sometimes has to be partly sacrificed, but this, as I say, is kept to a minimum. There are certain things that you cannot do with a power station or with a power line. You cannot grow roses over it, and I cannot even be sure how much we should like the effect if that were possible. But as cables advance across new country, care is taken to minimise the harm to the amenity that is there and to maximise the benefit of the amenity that they bring.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should like to spend quite a long time replying to the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, but I appreciate that it is too late for that. I hope, however, that your Lordships will allow me a few minutes to take up one or two points and, in particular, to thank the speakers who have made this discussion such a memorable debate. I know that some of them, at any rate, came at considerable personal inconvenience and very much at my request, and I am grateful to them. It might appear from some of the things that I said that the inquest—and we have in fact been holding an inquest on the administration of the Electricity Act of 1957, and particularly Section 37—has been an inquest on the corpse of England's natural beauty. But I am thankful to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, pointed out, that it is far from a corpse; and there is a great deal of natural beauty of England left for us to hand down to the next generation provided we are determined to see that it is not further despoiled or despoiled more than is absolutely essential. That is really the whole objective of this discussion this afternoon.
I think that every single speaker has supported my Motion, apart from the Government speakers and the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, who, if he will excuse my saying so, is not completely without a party plea in this particular matter: but as the noble Lord's speech developed it was interesting to see how much common ground there is between us, as, indeed, also appeared from the Government speeches, as well. The noble Lord, Lord Citrine, referred to the admirable book produced by the National Benzole Company, and I should like to pay tribute to them for the work they have done for the National Trust, not only in producing that pamphlet but in producing an admirable film which is really a lovely piece of work. It shows what can be done by the great industrial concerns when they really put their minds to it. Unfortunately, in some ways the nationalised industry has proved much less sensitive than some of the industrial and commercial concerns. As a Socialist, I feel ashamed to say that, but I am afraid it undoubtedly is so.
482 The noble Lord, Lord Braye, made a distinctly interesting and valuable contribution to the debate, and it linked up with what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has been saying about the benefits which we derived from the Industrial Revolution in this country: that as a result of the first Industrial Revolution large parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire, once a beautiful area, have been turned into a slum. As an Englishman, one is proud of those wonderful inventions to which Englishmen have contributed. At the same time, being pioneers undoubtedly has its drawbacks, and I am a little worried lest again, as a result of being pioneers in nuclear developments and nuclear production of electricity, we shall land ourselves into very much the same sort of situation. This is a point that I know my noble friend Lord Lawson would have made if he could have stayed to make his speech. The noble Lord, Lord Braye, suggested that it may be that within a short time we shall be able to generate in a small chamber no larger than your Lordships' House all the electricity we require for each of our large industrial areas; and if that be so, we shall find ourselves with these enormous nuclear power stations in the National Parks which cannot be pulled down because of the radioactive character of the work. That really is a terrifying prospect.
I should like to say that, while I found the speeches of the Government speakers most disappointing, I certainly would not suggest for a moment that the noble Earl who made the first speech is not just as appreciative of national beauty as I am. He and I have worked on the National Trust and I know how he feels about it; but that, to me, makes his speech all the more disappointing. Some of it, I thought, was really rather pillow-fighting, when he said that my proposal that the Prime Minister should come in as a sort of neutral party was not a very practical one because the Minister's decision was the decision of the Government. That is technically so, of course; but my noble friend Lord Attlee did not allow considerations of that kind to weigh with him when he intervened on a number of occasions between the years 1945 and 1950, and when the amenities of the country benefited largely as a result of that action on his part.
483 The noble Earl also said, referring to research—and I was glad that he took up that point—that the Generating Board were very much alive to this and were going on with it pretty hard. But that is not quite so. In Sir Christopher Hinton's own speech (if the noble Earl will look he will see it at page 204) in answering Mr. Max Nicholson, he said:You said that it seemed to you that the generating engineer has always been ahead of the transmission engineer, and I think I must agree with you. The insulation of cables today is still the oil insulated paper that was invented by Ferranti in about 1880.And so he goes on. It is therefore fairly clear that the amount of research which ought to have been done into this busines has not, in fact, been done. I am glad that they are taking it up now, but I hope that they will make a good deal more of it.
I will not reply to all of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. He said that this business of interfering with the beauties of the countryside by means of the overhead lines was kept to an irreducible minimum. That is only so because the amenity societies are always on the qui vive, and it is often necessary for one after another to be brought into action before this machinery works, and it ought, of course, to work without this pressure. I should like to remind the noble Lord (he may or may not know this) that the greatest difficulty was experienced in getting the electricity authority not to carry overhead electricity up the valley of Borrowdale, which is perhaps the most beautiful spot in all England. The local committee of the National Trust appealed to them and they turned it down flat; and it was only when the noble Lord, Lord Strang (who was here for most of the debate to-day) went up as Chairman of the National Parks Commission and interceded personally that the concession, which ought never to have been necessary, was finally made. I cannot imagine that, with a real appreciation of the importance of that valley, that proposal to carry overhead electricity up the valley would ever have been made.
The noble Lord said that I quoted £600,000 as an insignificant sum. I never said anything of the sort. I said that the great beauty of Kent should be put against £600,000, and that it would be 484 worth buying, even at a large price like that.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, in point of fact I think I did repeat the noble Lord's words fairly accurately. I said he regarded it as an insignificant sum compared with the loss of amenity.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I do not regard it as insignificant. I think you have to balance one thing against the other. The value of this is very high and not to be purchased for some large sum like that.
I should like to finish by saying that we have tried in this debate to make a number of constructive suggestions, and I should like to go over them briefly. The first is the need for more far-sighted planning, to plan the super-grid system, including the generating and sub-stations and the terminal points, as a single operation, with amenity in mind from the outset. The second is the need for a more liberal acceptance of undergrounding in the future in exceptional cases—and I want noble Lords to realise that we are talking about few and exceptional cases on the sort of lines which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, underlined so effectively—recommended by such responsible bodies as the National Parks Commission, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Royal Fine Art Commission and similar bodies. Then there is the need for intensive research into transmission problems which I mentioned a moment ago. There is the apparent lack of co-ordination between overhead lines and the clearing up of the clutter, the "birdcage," which, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford pointed out, has been successfully done at Peters-field, and could be done all over the country if the will to do it were there.
The need for better arrangements for consultation has been stressed by one speaker after another during the debate. There is the public procedure inquiry, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb made the most fruitful suggestions and which I hope the Government will take into account. Finally there is a point which I have not made. I think it would be valuable if the two Ministries could get together and formulate some kind of an instruction to the officers concerned on routing these lines, possibly in consultation with Sir 485 William Holford, whose valuable summary was read to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. If all these things could be done I am sure that out of to-day's debate a substantial improvement in the situation might be made. I 486 beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past eight o'clock.