§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Consent of local authority generally required to provisional order for supply of electricity).
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (&c.) Kirkcaldy,
said, he did not know whether there was any objection to the Amendment of which he had given Notice; but, at any rate, he thought it was not desirable that the Bill should pass without discussion. They had not heard the final opinion of the right hon. Ba- 874 ronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was not in his place, for he was an authority on the subject of electric lighting, though the Bill was in good hands in charge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bright-side Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella). The Amendment he had to propose, in the form of an addition to the clause, was of an innocent character, and he hoped it would be accepted. It was a simple matter, and, if it did no good, would certainly do no harm. In the first place, he proposed that when a Local Authority applied for a licence for an area under its jurisdiction, the Board of Trade should grant the application, unless there were special reasons against it, and these should be stated by the Board of Trade in a special report. The object was to make it clear that only special reasons justified a refusal by the Board. He remembered that in the last discussion great jealousy was evinced on the part of promoters of Companies against Local Authorities grasping the lighting for themselves; but, right or wrong, he thought that a Local Authority should act on the opinion of the ratepayers, and supply its own water and lighting, when such was desired. Again, he wished to provide, by his Amendment, that the grant of a licence to any Company or person should not be a bar to the granting of another licence within the same area. He was aware that he might be told that as the law existed there was, in fact, no prohibition to the granting of a licence where another existed within the same area; but his Amendment amounted to a clear declaration that under no circumstances should the existence of one licence be an obstacle to the granting of another. He might instance, to illustrate his intention, the case of railways. So far as the absolute law was concerned, the passing by Parliament of an Act authorizing gave no claim against the construction of another line; but the practice was very different to that in the United States, where any responsible persons wishing to construct a line were permitted to do so, the existence of a competing railway being no obstacle. He did not object to the period being allowed to the Company 875 for a licence under the Bill; his objection was to there being allowed to grow up in regard to electric lighting, as in practice there had been allowed in the case of railways, any sort of monopoly. Electricity was in its infancy—a growing science—and a few years might produce immense changes; electric lighting might become cheaper, and new methods might be discovered, and it would be a great misfortune if the absence of a specific legal declaration should give to the existence of one licence a claim as against the granting of another. It would be observed that he attached as a condition that the consent of the Local Authority should be given, for he was far from wishing that any new Company should, without that consent, have authority to dig up the public roads and streets. He invited the opinion of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, and regretted that the Committee had not the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham.
In page 1, at end, to add the words:— "When a local authority duly applies for a licence for an area within its jurisdiction, such licence shall be granted by the Board of Trade, unless the Board of Trade are of opinion that special reasons exist why such licence should not be granted; and in such case they shall make a special Report stating the grounds of their refusal. The grant of a licence to any Company or person shall not in any way hinder or restrict the granting of a licence to the local authority or to any other Company or person, with the consent of the local authority, within the same area."—(Sir George Campbell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol W.)
said, that the assent of the Government was confined to the Bill as it stood, because it appeared to be a useful extension of the powers under the Act of 1882, and might, perhaps, tend to public advantage. They must oppose the Amendment, the first part of which was wholly unnecessary, while the second part might be very mischievous indeed, defeating the very object for which the Bill was promoted.
§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
said, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had alluded to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Mem- 876 ber for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), he might say his right hon. Friend entirely approved of the Bill as it stood, and objected to the addition. His (Mr. Mundella's) own experience at the Board of Trade had convinced him that restrictions imposed by the Act of 1882 prevented the development of electric lighting, and this short amending Bill, which had passed the House of Lords, would, it was hoped, give to electric lighting that chance of development which it had in other countries, to which we were far behind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who introduced the Bill of 1882, had given his complete assent to the extension of time to 42 years, and in the other House Lord Herschell had expressed his entire approval. As the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had said, the first part of the Amendment was absolutely unnecessary, for the Act of 1882, and this amending Bill, conferred no monopoly whatever; and, with respect to the second part, it would act very mischievously, and operate against the intention of the Bill, and in reference to Provisional Orders would not work at all. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member would not put an obstacle in the way of a very useful measure by pressing his Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he was somewhat alarmed at the statement that the second part of his Amendment would prove mischievous. He had anticipated that it might be said to be surplusage; but when told that it was mischievous, he began to think there was something in it. He hoped the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade would explain in what respect it would be mischievous. Did it merely declare the law as existing, or did it alter it?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, the Amendment might be held to throw doubt on Provisional Orders and promote unrestricted competition, and the opinion of the best authorities were against it.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
asked what opinion the right hon. Gentleman quoted, and where in the existing law could be found a declaration that no monopoly should be created?
§ Objection being taken to Further Proceeding, the Chairman left the Chair to report Progress.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.