HL Deb 07 March 1961 vol 229 cc301-5

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will read the statement on hydro-electricity in Scotland which is now being made in another place by the Secretary of State:

It is eighteen years since the Cooper Committee submitted the Report which led to the setting up of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Since then the Board has developed Highland water power resources effectively and with general approval. It has so far connected 92 per cent. of the present potential consumers and has brought great benefits to the area it serves. During these years there have been technical advances in other methods of generating electricity, and while the relative cost of thermal generation is taken into account when individual schemes are under consideration there has been no general examination of the whole subject since 1942.

The stage has now been reached where the basic issues involved call for careful and thorough examination in principle rather than in the context of a public inquiry into an individual scheme. My right honourable friend has therefore decided that the general interest would best be served by the appointment of a Departmental Committee which would review the general arrangements for generating and distributing electricity in Scotland, and I am glad to say that Mr. Colin H. Mackenzie, C.M.G., former Chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Federation of British Industries, has agreed to act as Chairman. The other members of the Committee will be:

  • Sir Josiah Eccles, Deputy Chairman of the Electricity Council,
  • Professor Alan Peacock, Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University,
  • Mr. James Keyden, Director and General Manager, Pressed Steel Co., Linwood,
  • Mr. James Craig, County Clerk of Aberdeen,
  • Mr. James Grant, Editor of the Stornoway Gazette.

The Committee will have the following terms of reference:— To review the arrangements for generating and distributing electricity in Scotland having regard to (i) the availability and cost of hydro-electric power and of other sources of electricity; (ii) the rate of increase in the demand for electricity; and (iii) the needs of the remoter areas: and to make recommendations". The appointment of this Committee will not preclude the simultaneous consideration of the specific objections which have been lodged regarding the Glen Nevis scheme, and my right honourable friend is considering whether a public inquiry into these objections should be held at an early date. No final decision to proceed with the Nevis scheme would be made until the Departmental Committee's report had been received and considered.


My Lords, I always feel a little handicapped on such occasions as this, when Scotland is involved, and for the moment we have not a Scottish Peer behind us; but I am a little anxious about this statement. What is the real intention of this Departmental Committee? What question of principle is involved? I do not quite understand the necessity for holding an inquiry with such terms of reference. I hope this is not another "dig" at what has been an enormously successful, nationalised industry in Scotland. As to the composition of the Committee, although you have a first-class electricity man in Sir Josiah Eccles, besides a Professor of Economics, I am not impressed at first sight (although I am not a Scot) with the composition of this Committee, with such wide terms of reference. I wish we could have a little more information.


My Lords, talking from a Scottish point of view, I think we must certainly welcome this statement. The hydro-electricity scheme has done an enormous amount of good to the Highlands, which were being depopulated, and the more such work we can bring into the country the more pleased will be the people who are interested in Scotland, and the better it will be for the future of Scotland.


My Lords, there is certainly no intention of disparaging the admirable work which has been done by the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board, about which I think we all agree. The only purpose of this Departmental Committee is to review in principle matters which have not been reviewed for nineteen years—that is to say, to assess the relative cost of producing electricity, and its relative effect on demand at high-peak periods as between hydro-electric power and power produced by other methods of generation, such as surplus stocks of coal, and so on. It is in order to furnish my right honourable friend with fresh informa- tion on that matter of principle. I think my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has tabled a Motion on this subject which your Lordships will be debating on Thursday of next week, and your Lordships will then have the fullest opportunity of discussing all these questions in great detail.


My Lords, whilst I am not quite happy, I do not want to hold up the discussions of the House on this very important debate. If it is going to be debated next Thursday week, it can be said then. Has Lord Strathclyde, the Chairman of the Hydro-Electric Board, been consulted on this matter?


Of course he has been consulted, my Lords. It would be impossible to take a step like this without consulting the Chairman of the Board.


Is their experience so unsuccessful? I think it has been magnificent. Are they in any way involved in the composition of this Departmental Committee?


It would hardly be possible to put a member of the Board, or an engineer who is personally concerned with hydro-electric schemes in Scotland, on the Committee; but I will remind the noble Viscount of its terms of reference: To review the arrangements for generating and distributing electricity in Scotland having regard to (i) the availability and cost of hydroelectric power and other sources of electricity; (ii) the rate of increase in the demand for electricity; and (iii) the needs of the remoter areas:… These are all broad questions of principle which my right honourable friend thinks it is time to review again, in the light of the changes which may have taken place in the relative costs and efficiency of different methods of electricity generation.


My Lords, will the noble Earl say whether, within these terms of reference, it is intended to consider the question of subjecting the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to competition from, for example, private companies? Is it intended not merely to disturb the set-up as between one form of generation and another, but, as in the case of other publicly-owned industries, are the Government favourably considering subjecting this North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to intervention and competition from private capitalist concerns? Would the noble Earl tell us the answer to that simple question which my noble friend put?


My Lords, I do not see how that can come within the terms of reference of this Committee, which are simply to consider the relative costs of generating electricity as between hydro-electric power, coal, atomic energy and so on.