HC Deb 22 December 1919 vol 123 cc1101-23

The Electricity Commissioners may, either by themselves or through any district electricity board or joint electricity authority established under this Act, or any authorised undertakers, or other competent body, conduct experiments or trials for the improvement of the methods of electric supply or of the utilisation of fuel, and, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, incur such expenditure as may be necessary for the purpose.

Lords Amendment: Leave out the words "district electricity board or."


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

It may be convenient, perhaps, as this is the first of a series of Amendments, that I should state to the House as briefly as possible the arrangement that has been come to with regard to this Bill. It is the more essential that I should do so on the first opportunity, because the accounts which have appeared in the Press are so very wide of the mark and so inaccurate. The Bill itself was considered in this House at very considerable length. If my recollection is right, we spent nineteen days in Grand Committee upstairs and a very considerable number of days on Report. That in itself is sufficient to show that the Bill is one of very considerable magnitude, of very considerable complexity, and contains a number of details of a controversial nature. The Bill passed this House on the 28th November and went up to the House of Lords on the 3rd December. After considerable opposition it passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords, and it then became apparent that there was considerable opposition in another place to some of the provisions of the Bill. The question of electricity is not only of great importance, but of great urgency. It is not a matter on which we can afford to lose many months of time. Therefore, those in charge of the Bill and the Minister whose duty it will be to administer it, are faced with this difficulty. You have here a matter of grave and of urgent importance. You had a very short period of the Session left, and you had very serious opposition to certain provisions of the Bill in the House of Lords. They, therefore, come to an arrangement which I shall ask the House to say was a wise arrangement, namely, that they shall take a portion of the Bill at once, and that, with regard to the other portion of the Bill, they shall bring it up again on the resumption of our duties next Session.

There is a considerable portion of the work which must be done, and which ought to be done as quickly as possible; and it can be done under the provisions that we retain. There is a considerable portion of the work which is not so urgent, which cannot be undertaken until the preliminary work is done, and that work is contained in the suspended portion. May I say at once that the Government has no intention whatever, if they can help it, of losing a single provision of the Bill as it left this House. We agreed to the arrangement that the Bill should be divided upon the clear understanding—it was made perfectly clear in another place—that we were not giving away anything, that it was merely a postponement, and that as soon as the House reassembled we should reinstate that portion of the Bill suspended for the present, and reintroduce it at once into the House of Lords. We feel, having regard to the considerable time that this House gave both in Grand Committee and on Report stage, and to the very valuable and careful work which was done by Members in all stages, we would be justified in asking the House to reintroduce next Session and pass, without any trouble at all, that portion of the Bill.

We felt that this House had considered the Bill carefully and passed it, and that, therefore, we were justified in the belief that this House would accept the reintroduction of the suspended portion of the Bill and passing it in a very few days. We, therefore, confidently hope that the Bill will be reintroduced into the House of Lords in the form in which it stood when. it left this House by the end of February or the beginning of March. A3'ter careful consideration, we were convinced by all our expert advisers that it would be quite impossible to be in a position to carry out the suspended provisions before March at the very earliest. We therefore felt—we ask the House to agree—that the wise course was to accept that portion of the Bill which the Lords were prepared to pass. As' to the rest of it the Lords said—and said with a very great deal of justification, Here is a measure which took the House of Commons days in Committee and days on Report, a measure of great complexity and one with controversial details; you cannot ask us to pass that in a day or two without proper consideration." We felt that by taking that portion of the Bill which the Lords were prepared to give us, and which is amply sufficient to start an amount of work at once, and amply sufficient to enable the Minister in charge to start his system and his general policy and to make all his detailed arrangements, it would be well—I will tell the House briefly what powers we have kept—and the House of Lords could then have a fair opportunity of discussing the more controversial details which are not so immediately necessary and which we confidently hope will be carried into force at the beginning of next Session. What we propose to ask the House to accept is this: That we should have the powers given to us to set up the Electricity Commissioners. That is the first essential, for upon them will fall the duty of co-ordinating and setting up a general national policy for our electricity supply. They will have the power at once to set to work and provide the country with the suitable and appropriate areas which will be defined under their orders. Having done that they will be entitled to hold all the necessary local inquiries, to consider how far any area is properly provided with electricity, and how far it is possible to set up a joint electricity authority in any area to carry out the improvements that they may consider necessary. The Commissioners will be able to make that provision. In addition to that, they will have power, up to the extent of £20,000,000, to at once take in hand the construction of any generating stations in any area which are found to be essential and which cannot be set up either by the adjacent authority or any local authority. They will be able to restrict the building of any further works by any other public or private authority who are authorised undertakers which would add materially to the public expense when each of the other provisions, namely, the suspended ones, shall be carried into effect. So that the Electricity Commissioners, as the Bill stands, and if accepted by this House is as it left the House of Lords, when they have been set up will be able at once to set to work, set up a public and national policy and a general policy for electricity, and do the work I have enumerated. In addition they will have the full powers which this House gave them to take water for condensing purposes, and for water power, and use other appropriate means that may be available. There will also be concentrated in the Commissioners all the powers existing to-day in the various departments for the sanction of loans for purposes of electricity works, and so on. They will be able to deal With overhead wires, can protect the interests of all authorities from the highest to the lowest that may be affected by the provisions of the Bill, and they are empowered to carry out any works which are ancillary to those they have power over at present. All that stands over is the power to set up district boards.

May I remind the House that the district boards would only be set up in the event of the failure of any district to agree amongst themselves upon a joint electricity authority. That is the first thing to be done. Therefore, it is not until any district has failed to set up a joint electricity authority that the Electricity Commisioners will step in to set up a district board. It is highly unlikely that all the preliminary steps would be got through and all the local inquiries made, the various interests heard, and the various undertakers put forward their various schemes, and have those schemes considered—it is, I say, almost inconceivable that all these steps would be gone through before March. We, therefore, confidently hope that these things will be in existence and have been accepted by the House of Lords, as I have stated. There is the further question of the vesting in the district boards of the generating stations and the main transmission lines. This, of course, is a controversial question. There is the question of price to be paid. This aroused in this House a good deal of controversy and was fought, and keenly fought in Committee, and also upon the floor of this House upon Report. Manifestly it would be unfair to force, or attempt to force it through another place without any time for really considering whether the terms were just and fair. Further, until these Clauses are through the provisions by which the Treasury can advance the £25,000,000 to those authorities when they are set up has also been postponed.

I hope I have made it clear to the House that, first of all, there must be no abandonment of any portion of the Bill. It has been stated in the Press that the House of Lords has emasculated the Bill; that they have taken out all that is good and destroyed it, and so on. No such arrangement has been made. There is no abandonment of one single term in the Bill as it left this House. When it comes up for discussion in another place later I do know that the Government are determined should any provision be defeated that they will ask this House to reinstate it. There is no question of any agreement upon a single term or provision of the Bill as it left this House. Simply because it seemed to the Government both fair and convenient that a portion of the Bill shall be postponed the Bill comes to the House as it does. What I would ask the House to do is to accept the Amendments; they are really practically drafting Amendments with the exception of that which divides the Bill. I shall ask the House to say that it is fair that there should be an opportunity for real discussion in another place, and that no harm can be done to the practical good which this Bill may effect by the suspension of a portion of it. The Electricity Commissioners will have ample work to keep them fully occupied until such period as the suspended portions have passed through the House of Lords. It seemed desirable that the House should be in full possession of the facts of the position. Therefore, in accordance with what I have said I shall ask the House to agree to the Lords first Amendment. The amendments are necessary to carry out the arrangement which, as I have said, the Government entered into in another place.


We are indebted to my right hon. Friend for the general statement which he has made in regard to the position of the Bill on this first Amendment. I do not want to prolong discussion, though I think it would be in order; but I want briefly to say that after all this is one example of one of the large Bills of the Session which, under the new 'Rules of Procedure, was sent to Grand Committee. Members of this House sat on the Grand Committee and devoted a great deal of attention to the Bill for considerably over a month.


For three months.


For three months. Well, then, that makes my case stronger. That time was well spent over the measure, which was examined with great care. Why I am making this point is that one wants to facilitate the business of this House; it comes, therefore, as a surprise that after Grand Committee has spent about three months over the details of this measure, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gets up and says he has agreed to the position taken up by the House of Lords that they have not had ample time to discuss the intricacies of this Bill. After all, however, it is the business of the Government to see that their Bills reach the House of Lords in time to receive that ample discussion which the case necessitates. We have got to look into this question and see whether the alterations that we made in the Rules of Procedure at the beginning of the Session are ample to secure the passing of those Bills to which Members of this House have devoted so much time. I am not the least sure if the Government wish to give the House of Lords and the Grand Committees the consideration which they are entitled to from the work they put in, as to whether there should not be a date in the Session beyond which none of those large measures should be sent to the House of Lords. Every one of those large measures should be in Grand Committee before such a date as they will reach the House of Lords, in order to allow them to be returned after ample discussion. Presumably if my right hon. Friend did not intend to accept the Lords Amendment to this particular Bill the tendency would be to drop the measure or else to carry it over to the next Session. I make that suggestion, which I hope the Home Secretary will convey to those responsible for the business of the House. If you are going to succeed in getting large measures through you must fix the date on which they must leave Grand Committee. If they go beyond a certain date you have no right to expect the House of Lords to pass them through at the dictation of any Government. So long as the House of Lords exists it is perfectly entitled to discuss these questions.

With regard to this Amendment, I understand that what has happened is that the Lords have knocked out the compulsory boards and have accepted voluntary boards. They have given to those boards many of the powers that were to be given to the compulsory boards, and the position of the Government is that there is enough work for the Minister of Transport to do before the month of March next in getting the proposals of this Bill into working order before the further powers are, given to him. This House ought to know if the compulsory boards are necessary, and will be contained in the amended form of the Bill which is to be introduced next Session. May I take it that the Government is prepared to press the amended Bill on the House of Lords?




The compulsory boards have been left out and the position now is that the Minister of Transport will not require them before March. When we come back in February I understand that what has not been agreed to in this Bill by the Lords is to be reintroduced into this House as supplementary to the existing Bill, and the Home Secretary hopes that this will not need much discussion, and that it will go straight to the House of Lords. If the Minister of Transport wants the compulsory boards and the Lords maintain the position they have taken up and will only agree to voluntary boards, will the Government then insist upon compulsory boards? I presume that is the case, and that means that the Government intend to carry out their intentions. On this point we only want to know exactly where we are. The main purpose for which I rose was merely to say that- if the Government intend to get those powers they must fix a limit on which all important Bills should emerge from Grand Committee to go to the House of Lords.


The very few words I wish to say will be couched in an almost entirely congratulatory tone. I want to congratulate the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hogge) on the admirable constitutional doctrines to which he has just given expression, and I can assure him that they will receive a very cordial echo on this side of the House, I mean in regard to the necessity for giving' adequate time for the consideration of Bills in another place. In the second place, I want to be allowed to congratulate the Government on the courage, rather tempered I admit by the speech of the Home Secretary, they have displayed, and which has induced them to make what I hope is going to be a clean cut in this Electricity Supply Bill. I want to ask the Government why they have waited until now to make this clean cut. Why did they not exhibit their courage a little, sooner and in addition exhibit also the virtues of prudence and foresight? Those who have served on the Grand Committee upstairs, and I was one of them, have a serious ground of complaint against the Government in that we were called upon to spend two or three months moulding the details of a measure which has now been virtually abandoned.




I am aware that the Home Secretary has told us that we are going to be asked to reconsider these details next Session. I am dealing with the present Session, and the greater part of the Bill on which we spent our time upstairs I assert has been virtually abandoned, at any rate as far as this Session is concerned. On this point I speak the sentiment of the distinguished Member of this House who presided over the Committee upstairs, and he desires me to say on his behalf that in his opinion the Committee are entitled to an apology from the Home Secretary for the wasted time which has been expended on this Bill. From the legislative history of this Session one might suppose that a great deal of the work we have been invited to do was window dressing with a view to impressing persons outside this House. I do not myself believe that to be the real position, but the Home Secretary and the Government must be aware of the very serious suspicion they have incurred by the course they have taken. The Government have been in far too great a hurry to fulfil what they imagined to be the expectations of the electorate in regard to this and other measures of so-called reconstruction.

What is the result? We see it in the fate, as I think the well-deserved fate, of this Electricity Supply Bill. Thanks to the wisdom, not of this House, but of another place, this Bill and the Amendments we are asked to consider is now a very presentable piece of legislation. As originally brought in it was calculated to do a great deal more harm than good, but as it will leave us this afternoon I think it will be calculated to do a great deal more good than harm. We all admit that the electrical supply of this country and the electrical industry does need co-ordination and reorganisation, and that is particularly the case in the London area. I submit that this co-ordination and reorganisation can be accomplished under the Bill, as it is now presented with the Lords Amendments, and accomplish its object far more effectively than under the Bill as it left this House.

As originally introduced this measure was bureaucratic both in spirit and texture. A Government Department clothed with compulsory and autocratic powers was authorised to call upon the existing electricity undertakers to stand and deliver their undertakings on the terms dictated by Parliament. Those terms as formerly in the Bill were a direct contravention of a deliberate Parliamentary bargain. All the objectionable portion of the Bill, in the calmer, more critical and more judicial atmosphere of another place, has happily disappeared. In particular the House of Lords has exercised, I think, a very wise discretion in cutting out all reference to the district electricity boards. I have gone very carefully into the Amendments carried in another place which are now about to be proposed to this House, and I am bound to say that it appears to me that the House of Lords has treated the whole of this very intricate problem in a very statesmanlike way. It has exercised a very wise discretion in omitting from the Bill all reference to the district electricity boards. I was one of the members of the Committee, and ninny others were associated with me, who took a very strong view on this point, and who, from the outset., held and maintained that the district boards, as originally drafted in this Bill, were far too cumbersome and unwieldy, and more than that, the expenses which were likely to be entailed by the setting up of this machinery would not conduce to achieving the main object of the Bill—that is, to secure a cheap and abundant supply of electricity. On the Third Reading I suggested that we should and in this matter where we ought to have begun—that is to say, by bringing together under 'a voluntary arrangement the managers and proprietors of the existing electricity concerns, and that we should erect upon that on a voluntary basis a national scheme of electrical supply. I congratulate His Majesty's Government that they have tardily arrived at the same conclusion, and I only wish that that wisdom had been vouchsafed at an earlier date, for it would have saved the Government and the Committee upstairs and the House at large much 'trouble and time, and possibly temper as well.


I wish to ask a question for the information of the House. The suspension of a portion of a Bill is somewhat of an innovation, and I would like to ascertain from the Home Secretary in what stage the suspended part of the Bill will be reintroduced next Session. Will it come up altogether as a new Bill which will have to pass through all its stages as if it had not been previously introduced? Can he tell us exactly how the, Bill will come before this House or a Committee of this House next Session? There is only one other remark that I wish to make with the regard to the precedent which has been made by sending this Bill to a Grand Committee. Is time really saved by sending important Bills of this kind, in which large numbers of Members are interested, to a Grand Committee instead of to a Committee of the Whole House? It must happen in such circumstances that numbers of Members, who are not members of the Grand Committee, but. who desire to take part in the discussions on the Bill, will be able to go over the same ground 'as has been taken in Grand Committee, and the Report stage of such Bills, therefore, must take up much longer time than would be the case if they were committed to a Committee of the Whole House?


Of course, it is a new precedent entirely, but we are considering how far it may be possible to save, this House the time and trouble of having to go over again that which has been so thoroughly thrashed out this Session. It there be no other way of doing it, we shall have to introduce it in the form of a new Bill, in which case we shall ask the House to pass it through all its stages with as little trouble as possible. We shall consult the authorities, and if it be possible to find some other means of doing it we shall adopt them. If not, we shall introduce it as a new Bill and ask the House to pass it through all its stages with as little trouble as possible, having regard to the fact that the whole matter has been thoroughly thrashed out and accepted by this House.


Whatever else may be uncertain, the Government can always be sure 'that whatever happens to any part of-their legislation somebody will be pleased, and the hon. Member who has just spoken, is pleased at the course which has been taken in the House of Lords. This Bill has passed through a very curious course of events. I am not going to make any complaint about the time that we spent upstairs in Committee. We were four weeks on the Bill, we changed the whole character of it, and we had hoped that we had made something of it. The Bill went to the House of Lords, and in a day or two they have taken out by far the larger amount of the work that we have put into it. We are told, however, that that which has been taken out this Session will be put back next Session. The District Boards have gone, and in their place the Joint Electricity Authorities remain. The District Board was the original proposal of the Government; when the Bill originally came before this House it contained no provision for anything else. The Joint Electricity Authorities were added by the Committee upstairs. Now the other place has removed the District Boards, the Government's original proposal, and the Joint Electricity Authorities remain. It all seems rather like one of these little arithmetical pastimes in which one sometimes engages, where you think of a number, double it, and then take away the number that you first thought of, and something remains. The Government thought of District Boards, and then they added Joint Electricity Authorities, now they have taken the district boards away, and the result is the Bill before us.

This Bill, like a good many other Bills before the House this Session, has been the battleground of two different kinds of view. Some of us looked upon the pro--vision of electrical energy as a great public enterprise. Others thought it was a proper field for private enterprise. The latter view has triumphed. That is the real position, and those of us on this side of the House quite recognise it. When the Bill first came before the House, those of us who thought that this service was one that should be a great public service had reason for hope that that was also the view of the Government, because their proposal was simply that of a District Board. It is quite true that the District Board was not entirely of a public character, but it was more than semi-public. It was to be a board upon which were to be seated representatives of local authorities, of Labour, and of other large interests. Those of us who were looking forward to the expansion of the public service had in that proposal real ground for believing that this was to be a great step in that direction. We had more than the action of the Government to justify us in that belief. We had the whole history of electrical enterprise, because almost from the very beginning it appears to have been recognised in this House and in the country that, while in the earlier stages of electrical enterprise the work should be carried on by private enterprise, yet ultimately it should come into the hands of the public authorities, and with the exception of the power companies, which came along at a later stage, the companies were always subject to the provision that some time or other the public authorities should have the power to purchase them. When this Bill came forward, therefore, we thought that that was going to be hurried up. We thought that a great public authority was coming into existence which was going to exercise these powers, I will not say prematurely, but before they were expected to be exercised, and that the result of the Government measure would be a great electrical service carried on, not necessarily from Whitehall, but at all events by public authorities using public money.

When the measure came before us in Committee it was very strongly opposed, and by nobody more ably than my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Marriott), and I congratulate him upon his triumph. We had it very strongly pleaded that before the Government proceeded to so drastic a step they should at all events give the undertakings the chance of coming together under a Joint Electricity Authority. That seemed to be a reasonable thing, and, the Committee being composed of reasonable people, they adopted it, and the Bill left this House with alternative proposals. It was open to the public authorities and the undertakings in any area to come together voluntarily, and if they could not do that, they were to be compelled to come together under a district board. In the other House, that choice has been withdrawn. A number of Members who sit for constituencies on the North-East Coast have taken steps to call together a conference of local authorities to decide whether they will combine with undertakings in that area to form a joint electricity authority or whether they will combine with the object of getting a district board. That choice has gone, and there is no course open to them other that that given in the Bill as it comes down to this House. It may be said that this is a very proper principle on which to proceed. You should first try and get what you want by voluntary agreement, and afterwards, if you cannot do so, proceed by compulsion, as you did in the case of the Army. I understand that the position of the Government is that they think that no harm will result between now and next Session by the application of the voluntary principle; but, if that principle fails, then they will come forward with a Bill next Session.


Not only if it fail.


In any case.


In any case? The position of the Government can hardly be that, if in any area they have succeeded in getting a joint electricity authority under way and have invested it with all the powers under this Bill, they are then next year going to replace it by a district board. Obviously, that cannot be their position. They can only do that where they fail. I should be glad to have this matter cleared up. I will put it to the Home Secretary. It will be only in such areas where they fail to establish a joint electricity authority under this Bill that they will apply the provisions of any succeeding Bill by setting up district boards.


The new Bill will be that portion of the Bill as it left the House of Commons that has been taken out. It will simply bring it back to the old form, with the old powers, and the old proceedings—everything as it left this House. There will be no change.


Provided it passes the House of Lords.


Under the Bill as it left this House we had two alternatives. First of all, you tried to set up a joint electricity authority, and then, if you failed, you set up a district board. Now the district board has gone, but we are promised that a Bill reintroducing it shall be brought in next Session. I put it to the Home Secretary that what he means is that if the experience of this Bill shows that he cannot get what he wants by the voluntary principle he is going to bring in a Bill to apply compulsion?


No; that is not the case. The only reason we have dropped out this portion is because the House of Lords has not time to discuss it. We intend, however, to press it. It is not a question of getting experience in the meantime. We are gong to bring it in in any case.

5.0 P.M.


It is an extraordinary position. We have a Bill to set up what We are told is a great system of electrical generation in this country, which we have been assured by the Government is one of the things most needed. This Bill is a complete measure in itself, and, if the voluntary principle be successful, there will be no need from the standpoint of the generation of electricity to bring in any other measure. That is the position, and the only reason for bringing in any other measure will be the failure of this Bill. Your Bill next Session will be an Electricity Supply (Additional Powers) Bill, just as you brought in an additional Housing Bill because your first Housing Bill failed. That is the real position. Something more has happened in the other House than the mere dropping out of the compulsory portion of the Bill. Under the Bill as it left this House you had joint electricity authorities which came together by agreement and which had practically no compulsory powers vested in them. You had these district boards which were furnished with very considerable powers under the Bill. What has 5.0 P.m. happened in the other House is not merely that the district boards, with all their powers, are dropped out, but something much more. While the district boards have dropped out the powers which were supposed to he conferred upon them have been handed over to the joint electrical authority. That is a serious step. Let me give one concrete instance of what it represents. It is a case which affects the city which both the right hon. Gentleman and I have the honour to represent. Under the Bill as it originally left this House, the district boards were given the right which local authorities already had, of purchase, and when the district board was set up all rights at present vested in the local authority for the purchase of electrical undertakings became vested in the Board. The city of Newcastle-on-Tyne has been expecting, some years hence, to acquire the electrical undertakings in that city. Under the Bill as it left the House, that hope was taken away from it and the right to purchase vested in the district board. But, at any rate, the district board which was to be set up wag one on which they would be represented. Now, however, this right of purchase is taken away from the local authority and given to a voluntary body—the joint electrical authority, and that appears to me to be a very serious step. It is one thing to take away rights from one public authority and give them to another, but it is a very different thing to take those rights from a public authority and give them to a private body. Yet that is what you have done here.

In the speech of the hon. Gentleman apposite (Mr. Marriott) gladness was tinged with sorrow; in my own remarks, sorrow is tinged with gladness. I think the House of Lords are to be congratulated an having cut out the fantastical provisions for compensation. There is no standard price in the Bill. The joint electrical authorities may make such arrangements as they care to agree to with the owners of undertakings. I would ask the Home Secretary for more information on that point. I would like to know whether the Electricity Commissioners, when they are approving any scheme for setting up a joint electricity authority, will put in any provisions controlling the purchase price to be paid by the joint authority for any undertakings which may be acquired by agreement? I think that is an important point, as otherwise undertakings may be taken over at a price very much above their real value, and joint electrical authorities may be set up with capital very much in excess of the real value of -the undertaking. We were told all through the discussions on the Bill that the object of the Government was to give a cheaper supply of electricity, and that was their justification for adopting standard prices. Will the Home Secretary tell us whether any safeguards are contained in the Bill which will prevent the joint electrical authority being hampered by great additions of altered capital? I think the Bill as it stands is a complete measure in itself. It originally raised the question of public versus private enterprise, and the Government have now dropped down on the side of private enterprise and given voluntary effort its chance. We shall watch the operation of the Bill, believing the Government will be compelled, in may parts of the country at least, to call in the application of the compulsory powers which are promised in the Bill which we are told is to be brought is next Session.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HOARE

It was rather interesting to those Members of the House who sat for nineteen solid days in Committee on this Bill to hear the statement made by the Home Secretary to-day. I suppose we may take it that the Bill is wrecked. That was the suggestion made by the right lion. Gentleman when any of us put forward. Amendments with which he did not agree. We were told that the carrying of them would result in the wrecking of the Bill. How can the right hon. Gentleman explain the Government attitude to the Amendments brought forward in another place? How can he suggest that the Government intend to carry the whole of the measure as passed through this House? He is doing nothing of the sort. The Government has been forced by pressure to admit that it is not desirable that a Bill of this magnitude should be passed into an Act of Parliament. I ventured during the Committee stage to draw attention to the enormous amount of money that would be required in order to finance the scheme, especially under the compulsory purchase powers. In order to take over these private undertakings, the Government would have had to find money, and the difficulty which faced them in that direction may constitute one of the reasons why they have decided not to go on with the Bill. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Marriott) in congratulating some members of the Government at least on having realised that the Bill was a stupendous mistake.

I well remember, on the Clause dealing with the amount of money required for purchase, it was stated that the price to be paid was the cost of the land, buildings and plant, "less depreciation." In discussing that matter in the House previously I had ventured to point out than the words "less depreciation" came in by mistake, and were only accepted by the Home Secretary because the Government were going to get an advantage in a surreptitious sort of manner, which they should never have done from private undertakings, because the Board of Trade, which is only a watching Department in this case, after carefully examining all the facts, sent a circular to Members of the House indicating that the price that should be paid should represent the cost of the land, buildings and plant only. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought not to be a party to any breaking of a Parliamentary bargain, and I must express my opinion that the alteration in this. Bill does restore to Parliament that credit which the British people have always given it, namely, that a bargain made by the British House of Commons is one that, will always be respected. If the right hon. Gentleman has been able to maintain that position for this House by cutting down this Bill, it affords us good grounds, at any rate, for congratulation. The right hon. Gentleman must have heard a. vast amount of criticism by people in regard to this measure. One had only to go into the City of London, where even Governments have to go in order to obtain the necessary finance, to hear people say, in regard to this scheme, "We are not prepared to go into it, even although it has Government sanction. We have no guarantee that the sanction given by the House of Commons will be adhered to." That is a very serious charge to make against this House. The Act of 1888 laid down most plainly the terms upon which, in the event of electrical undertakings being purchased, they should be paid for. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the times are now different, that the value which has to be paid for articles differs, and he said "in 1888 it was not supposed that money would have been on such a different basis to what it is at the present time." That is neither here nor there. Arrangements entered into by this House must in any circumstances be adhered to.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend this question. It has been suggested that under this Bill there is a possibility of some charge being made on the rates. I have looked carefully through the Bill and find no such power contained within it. I hope, therefore, that whoever replies on behalf of the Government will make perfectly plain the position in that regard. We are told that this Bill is going to reappear next Session; to use the phraseology of the right hon. Gentleman, the Government intend to force this Bill through another place. If that is the fact, then I think it will be a very bad thing for this House. Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman that although there may be a Second Chamber, members of his Majesty's. Government in this House intend to say to the other House, "We have passed the Bill; we have used the necessary machinery that -is in our power in the House of Commons, irrespective of details on decisions that have been arrived at by members of the Grand Committee which sat on the Bill day after day and week after week, irrespective of the decisions that they came to by 20 votes to 4, we reversed those decisions because they did not suit the policy of His Majesty's Government, and we are going to use the same machinery notwithstanding any careful consideration that may be given to the matter in another place, notwithstanding the decisions that may there be arrived at, you may just as well save your time, instead of devoting it to considering this Bill, because, as the Home Secretary told the House of Commons on 22nd December, it is our intention to force the measure through the other House." I hope nothing of the sort will be attempted.

I was one of those who were of opinion that it was necessary there should be what were called "watchers" in the shape of Commissioners, and I hope that those Commissioners, notwithstanding that the District Electricity Boards are no longer to be set up, will give their attention and be prepared for the time when, in 1932, the purchasing powers of the Act come into operation. Let them provide themselves with all the necessary data, so that instead of making up their minds to go forward with this huge purchasing body, which is wanted practically by nobody, they will be in a position to take action which will be of benefit to consumers at large. From what we know of private enterprise, we know that as a rule you get the best results from it because of the competition. At the same time you want that watching board so as to be prepared when the purchasing time comes, and if the Government will leave the electricity scheme as it is under the Bill as revised, then I think that, although we spent many days in criticising the Bill in Committee, the members of that Committee will be able to congratulate themselves that they succeeded in bringing out the ill-effects that would be wrought by the measure.


I also was a member of the Committee upstairs, but I am riot going to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Marriott) in demanding an apology from the Home Secretary for the course which he has taken, because I think it is a wise course and one for which he has ample justification in the circumstances. But it appears to me that a great deal of misconception has arisen as to the importance of that part of the Bill which is going to be omitted if the Lords Amendments are agreed to. In the review of the proposals of the Lord Chancellor in the "Times" newspaper, no mention was made at all of the fact that there were joint electricity authorities set up by the Bill, and if I may remind the House of what the Bill as amended in Committee of this House provides, I would like to say that, first of all, the Commissioners hold an inquiry and ask all those who are interested in the supply or the use of electricty to see whether they cannot formulate a scheme for a joint authority It is only if they are unable to formulate a scheme that the Commissioners come in and may then formulate such a scheme themselves, and it is only when both fail that the question of a district electricity board arises at all, and even then no board need be set up, and it is open to the Commissioners to say that it is unnecessary to have a board for the particular district and to allow things to go on as they are. Therefore, it seems to me that an altogether undue importance has been attached to these Clauses and different parts of the Bill which it is now proposed to leave out, because they would only have become operative in any case if schemes for the setting up of the district authority had completely failed.

I was a little concerned to hear what the Home Secretary said as to his intentions next Session, and the indications that he let drop of some possibility of proceeding otherwise than by the introduction of a new Bill He said the intention of the Government was merely to put together into a new Bill those parts of this Bill now left out and to introduce them without change and without waiting for any experience of the operation of that part of the Bill which we are to pass to-day. I think it was one of the Prime Ministers who said, "I do not care what the decision of the Cabinet may be, but let us all tell the same story." This Government has not been altogeteher fortunate in telling the same story, and the Home Secretary, in this particular instance, has not escaped the fate that has already overtaken some of his colleagues, because I happened to be in another place when the Lord Chancellor introduced these Amendments, and his account of the intention of the Government was very different from that of my right hon. Friend. I heard what he said in another place. It is true he agreed with my right hon. Friend that the parts that were to be dropped now were to be introduced next Session, but he said it would be with such modifications as may seem right to the Government and as may appear to be desirable in view of the experience of the Commissioners of the working of that part of the Bill which is passed during the present Session. I venture to think that that is the more statesmanlike course. We have got really a complete Bill in the amended Bill as it stands to-day.

The part that has been dropped out is, as the Home Secretary himself pointed out, a part that cannot in any case come into operation for a considerable time. Why tie yourselves and the House to the introduction of a new Bill reproducing the compulsory Clauses immediately the new Session opens? Why not give the Bill as it stands a little time to work, and, if you then think it desirable to introduce these Clauses again, do so, but give yourselves the opportunity of making improvements if experience shows that improvements can usefully be made. For my part, I feel very certain that improvements can usefully be made, and I believe that a little experience would show that clearly to all concerned. I have never been enamoured of the constitution of these district electricity boards, with their representatives of local authorities, of Labour, of large consumers, and of all sorts of other miscellaneous people, who will have nothing in common but the fact that they serve on the district electricity board, and perhaps have to come from considerable distances,- and who, I am afraid, are likely to make very serious mistakes. I would have preferred a different composition altogether, and I rise for this purpose, to ask the Home Secretary to be guided by experience and to adopt the Lord Chancellor's view of the case rather than that which he has put forward, I hope somewhat hastily, this afternoon, and not to commit himself to introducing a new Bill at any particular time, but to allow the necessities of the case themselves to speak and to bring in his Bill in the light of such experience as may usefully be gained.


I appreciate fully the very great pressure on the time of the House to-day, but I desire to put very briefly indeed the point of view of Labour Members who took part in the prolonged discussion of this Bill, not only in Committee but also on the Report stage in this House. We started with the ideal of a Bill which would be complete, mainly from the point of view of public utility, and also from the point of view of the voluntary agencies which are supplying electricity in this country, and we believed that attitude to be consistent with the report of the Committee which had gone fully into this question in Great Britain In the progress of the Bill through Committee we saw Clause after Clause watered down, conditions abated, and terms altered and modified, until at the end of the proceedings we were profoundly dissatisfied with the state of the Bill as it emerged from the Committee. I have no desire now, and there certainly is not time, to go back on that controversy, but I do think that the Government could probably employ or adopt a better policy at this moment than the one they are now suggesting to the House. What will happen if the course which is proposed is adopted? I gather that all the Amendments on the Paper will be adopted, the Bill will be modified by taking out of it—and it is weak enough even as it is—a very great deal that is valuable, and these Clauses and provisions will then fall to be put together in some new Bill to be introduced in the new Session. The consequence will be that we shall proceed towards the coordination of the supply of electricity in this country early next year under two Acts of Parliament—under this abbreviated and attenuated Act that we are now passing, and under a new Bill which is to be introduced to make up for the loss which we are incurring to-day. On that point there is not the slightest certainty whatever that we are going to get the provisions which we are giving up at this hour. Hon. Members below the Gangway have indicated that in another place the Bill, or the proposals now being lost, will be modified or altered, and that, I think, points to this conclusion, that we shall not get in terms of the Government's own Bill at present, that scheme of co-ordination which is absolutely necessary if this business is going to be a success in the country. That, I think, from the point of view of impartial Members of this House, is certainly a very undesirable result, and rise mainly to make this proposal or suggestion with all respect to the Government.

Rather than proceed under two Acts of Parliament, as we shall be doing ultimately, which may not be easily reconciled with one another at all, and which, if the views of the members of another place axe expressed, will not be reconcilable with one another, would it not be infinitely better to-day, especially as we have, not time to consider these Amendments in detail, to pass only such brief Clauses, say one or two or more, providing for the appointment of the Electricity Commissioners and such immediate duties as would fall to these Commissioners, and leave the rest of this problem for consideration after the Recess, when we could introduce a proper Bill and see that the landscape is filled, so to speak, on which these Electricity Commissioners might work? Is there any real loss in the proposal which I venture to make? I think not, because even if the Electricity Commissioners were merely appointed and their preliminary duties pointed out, it is quite clear, that that would occupy three or four or more months of time in this country, and we should be then in a position to come along and tackle the business, not de novo—I do not suggest that for a moment—but in the light of the experience we have gained, and put together a Bill much more effectively than we can do now. I feel very strongly, and I venture to protest most vigorously indeed from these Benches against being called upon, on a day like this, when there is other very important business to come before the House, to consider ten pages of Amendments covering the whole of the Bill, the effect of which Amendments we have not had time to appreciate and which we have absolutely no opportunity of debating at length. I think it is thoroughly bad business, if I may say so. It is against the interests of the co-ordination of the electricity supply of this country, and I appeal to the Government to adopt the modified policy of appointing their Commissioners, indicating their preliminary duties, and leaving the rest of the business to be tackled with proper time and in a proper spirit after the Recess.

The Minister of TRANSPORT (Sir Eric Geddes)

I understand that the proposal of the hon. Member who has just spoken is that we should even now introduce a new Bill of two or three short Clauses rather than go on with this Bill as amended by the Lords. I think that really the decision that we had to take was whether, in view of the short time allowed the Lords to consider this Bill, we would lose the whole Bill this Session or get a part of it, and I can only confirm what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there is no intention on the part of the Government of dropping the valuable provisions, which have not been by our agreement cut out of the Bill, but merely postponed. It is purely a postponement, so far as this Government is concerned, and the House will he invited as early as possible next Session to re- affirm the decisions which it had taken when the House sent it to the Lords, and the Lords will be invited to pass the Amendments as we sent them up before.

As to what the hon. Member (Mr. Chamberlain) says, there is no difference of opinion between the Home Secretary's statement and that of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor said a now Bill would be introduced embodying practically the same provisions as were being now postponed, and that is the intention of the Government, and we hope we shall have the assent of the House to dealing with the matter very speedily when we reassemble. In the meantime We are given enough power to go on with the appointment of the Comissioners, with the delimitations of the districts, and with the invitation and other encouragements to the joint electricity authorities to create themselves on approved lines. It is inconceivable that as the House and the Grand Committee desired that opportunity for private enterprise should he given, their failure to take their opportunity in two or three months could have resulted in the district electricity board with all its powers being brought in. We should be bound to give them two or three months, and therefore, after very careful consideration of the problem. we had to decide, and, after consultation with the experts, we came to the conclusion that we were really losing no time by going ahead with the portion of the Bill We are given now, and that if. as we believe., the House will reaffirm its opinion early next Session we shall have additional powers from the Lords—and I believe there will be a better chance of getting them than if we tried to force them now—in ample time to make use of them as soon as it becomes necessary.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: After the word "fuel," insert the words "or waterpower.—Agreed to.