§ 3.55 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, and in the absence of my noble friend Lord Craigton, I should like to read a statement made in another place by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, about the Report of the Mackenzie Committee. It is as follows:
"The Government have given very careful consideration to the findings of the Mackenzie Committee, including its central recommendation that the functions of the two Electricity Boards in Scotland should be transferred to a single new authority.
"In making this recommendation, the Committee's purpose, which must also be the Government's, was to ensure that the whole operation of generating, transmitting and distributing electricity in Scotland is carried out on the most economic basis possible, and that judgments on questions arising in this connection—for example as regards 1397 the size, character and location of new generating stations—are not influenced by narrower considerations arising out of the financial consequences to the separate accounts of one or other of the, existing Boards.
"It is however clear that the proposal to merge the two existing Boards is unwelcome to a wide range of interests, especially those who have benefited by the immensely valuable work that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board have carried out in the last twenty years. For my part I do not think it has yet been established that the continued existence of the two Boards is incompatible with the provision of electricity in the most economic manner, and I intend to see what can be achieved by close consultations and co-operation between the two Boards.
"I have myself talked the position over with the Chairmen of the two Boards, and have arranged that they will jointly discuss with me or my officers any issues that may arise between them. In the expectation that the common purpose of the Mackenzie Committee and of the Government can by this means be secured, the Government have decided not to proceed at the present time with the legislation that would be necessary to implement the Commitee's recommendation on this aspect of the matter.
"A particular subject on which discussions with the two Boards are proceeding is the comparative cost of providing electricity, on the one hand by the proposed hydro-electric generating schemes that the North of Scotland Board have published and, on the other hand, by the installation of additional thermal generating capacity elsewhere in Scotland. In the light of the comparative costs thus established, the North of Scotland Board will decide whether they wish the necessary formal inquiries to be undertaken into the hydro-electric schemes; and the comparative costs will be part of the material placed before any inquiries that proceed.
"I have one further point to add. A subordinate recommendation by the Mackenzie Committee was that special assistance should be provided to en- 1398 able rural electrification in the North of Scotland to be speeded up, and to link the islands with the mainland by submarine cable. The North of Scotland Board consider that most of these cables will be needed only when the existing diesel generating stations on the main islands have to be renewed, but have drawn up a programme for accelerating the present rate at which consumers in the more remote areas can be given supplies. This programme involves capital expenditure that would increase the loss the Board incur at present on similar connections. The Board's future capital investment proposals are now under consideration as are those of the remainder of the Electricity Board throughout the country; and a decision will be taken as soon as possible."
§ My Lords, That is the statement.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sorry to see that to-day I have not a Scottish Peer on this side of the House who would be able to make a better comment than I on the statement which has just been made by the noble Marquess. I am much obliged to him for having made it. I am relieved to think that at the moment the Government are not persuaded that the recommendation of the Mackenzie Committee for the amalgamation of these two Boards has been soundly proved. I have heard that considerable doubts have been expressed about this by many people in Scotland, especially in the North of Scotland, and particularly those who have followed with interest the great success of the Hydro Electric Board over the last twenty-odd years. I gather that no legislation is proposed at present. Therefore we shall have another opportunity of looking at this later on. In the meantime, perhaps the noble Marquess will expect me to consult my Scottish friends as to the interim arrangements which have to be made and, if necessary, we can communicate with the Minister about it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, having had an interest in this matter for a considerable number of years, and knowing the feelings and 1399 wishes of the North pretty well, I should like to say that the statement to which we have just listened is a most important one and I am very grateful to my noble friend for having made it. I am glad indeed to learn that no legislation is contemplated at the present moment. I welcome the suggestion that an inquiry should be held as to the costs of producing electrical current or power by the various means available to-day. All I would ask my noble friend is to say to the present holder of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland that I hope he will never forget that the object of the North of Scotland Board was to provide electrical power for those living in the North and in the far-flung parts of this country, and that, until that has been more or less completed, it was never the intention, to the best of my knowledge and belief, to amalgamate or abolish the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board.
§ BARONESS HORSBRUGH
My Lords, may I add that there has been a great anxiety in Scotland, not only in the North, but also in the South, at the thought that the North was not getting a fair deal? We are very glad indeed to hear the statement that has been made this afternoon.