§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)
A year ago I raised on the Adjournment the question of the lack of sufficient progress in the electrical generating station construction programme, as the Minister of Fuel and Power will remember. Twelve months have passed, and once again I feel obliged to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the situation. A 1963 year ago I pointed out that there was a gap of about 2,000 megawatts—it is convenient to give the figures in megawatts rather than kilowatts—which is the approximate capacity of eight very large modern power stations, between the national electrical demand and the electrical generating capacity available to meet the demand. The staggering of working hours was, and I take it still is, estimated to reduce this gap to 1,000 megawatts, or to roughly one-half of the total, leaving at least 1,000 megawatts to be shed at times of maximum load—with all the waste and inconvenience attached to it—if the weather is at all severe.
I think it is common ground that the difficulty over the generating capacity, the reason for the existence of the gap between demand and supply at peak load times, is the result of the war years and the enforced neglect of new generating station construction during that time. Of course, we should remember that this is not a difficulty or a problem peculiar to this country alone. Every country in Europe is meeting with the same trouble. Obviously, there is only one way of eliminating the gap and that is by building a sufficient number of new power stations. The new generating capacity needed to fill the gap is over and above the extra capacity needed each year to cope with the normal increase of load. Since the siting and construction of power stations is a big and long job which inevitably takes some years, the forward planning programme must aim at gradually reducing the gap and finally eliminating it.
From time to time figures have been given to the House and to the country of the new capacity which it was proposed to bring into service. The last complete set of figures announced publicly that I know about were 'those given in the White Paper on Capital Expenditure published in 1947. Last year when I raised this matter my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replied. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary if he really thought that the years immediately ahead would see produced the megawatts of new capacity given in the Estimates. He replied:With regard to the forward programme, which is quite important, that for 1948 is for 1,150 megawatts, and, for 1949, 1,600 megawatts; 1964 and the cut in the investment programme does not in any way affect those levels."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 632.]So much for the theory, and now for the practice. When I put a question to my right hon. Friend on 16th December, it was answered by the Parliamentary Secretary, who said:The estimate given in the Economic Survey for 1948 was 1,150,000 kilowatts. It is now expected that over 500,000 kilowatts will be commissioned in the year.I put a further question to him asking what was the estimated capacity of new electrical generating plants to be brought into service during 1949. and the Parliamentary Secretary replied:My hon. Friend will appreciate that it is extremely difficult to make accurate estimates of this kind owing to the number of unforeseeable contingencies, but it appears from the information at present available that about 1,000,000 kilowatts may be brought into service in 1949."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 202.]The sad story, then, is that in 1948 we failed to get half-way towards the target, and that for 1949 the Ministry has cut the 1947 estimate by about one-third. I think it should also be said that the 500 megawatts actually commissioned in 1948 is a gross figure, from which should be deducted plant taken out of service. Therefore, the net real increase in available generating capacity is just over 300 megawatts, which is not more than the output of about six medium sized turbo-alternators.
I have said enough to show to my right hon. Friend that the planning figures have been fantastically inaccurate up to now, and if there are to be these programmes in future I hope they are going to be set up within the bounds of reality. May I suggest that sober estimates for the next three or five years should be made, and that they should be based upon the actual manufacturing experience of the last year or so and related to what the country can afford in terms of labour, material and diversion from the export market.
Now a word about the future. When the Parliamentary Secretary replied to me last year, he said that we should have a safety margin of generating plant amounting to 500 megawatts by 1951–52. I did not think that was possible at the time, and I think that, if we look to last year's Adjournment Debate, I said so. When 1965 my right hon. Friend replies tonight, I do not think, somehow, that he will attempt to stand by his hon. Friend's statement of last year. The truth is that for the next few years we shall be very hard put to prevent the gap getting wider, and I do not think this is in any way a half-statement.
Much of the plant we are using now is out of date, and is plant the proper destination of which should be the scrap-yard. We shall be lucky to be free from load shedding by 1954, and even that assumes the annual commissioning of 1,500 megawatts of new plant on the average, or three times last year's reality. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend's advisers can supply him with the exact figures. I shall tell him how I have worked mine out. I have taken 6 per cent. on the maximum demand each year, which is the standard figure. It is the pre-war way of doing it and I see no reason to vary it. The maximum demand in this country tends to advance by about 6 per cent. each year. If one adds 6 per cent. each year and then spreads over the same period the 2,000 megawatt gap one gets 1,500 megawatts as the average new capacity needed to meet the increased demand each year, and also finally close the gap.
What is the reason for this failure to live up to expectations in the matter of installing new electrical generating plant? My right hon. Friend has already given one reason in answer to a question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton). It is true that between the end of the war and vesting day there was, perhaps, an unavoidable lack of co-ordination between the Central Electricity Board, who did the planning, and the individual undertakings who had to do the actual construction. I should also like to suggest that there was a very marked lack of sufficient steel and of sufficient labour. The steel position has been greatly eased in recent months, but the labour position is still extremely difficult. I hope that my right hon. Friend if he can is going to look into this matter of the labour position. The turnover of labour in the electrical plant manufacturing industries is far too high.
As I am sure my right hon. Friend will appreciate, I am not raising this matter in any spirit of criticism of the 1947 Act, of which I am a temperate advocate. I 1966 believe that the sweeping away of the overlapping and complicated organisation left by the 1926 Act, which was very good as far as it went, though it did not go far enough, is one of the many blessings conferred upon the industry by the new Act. I sometimes wonder if the golden opportunities opened up by the 1947 Act are really being, taken full advantage of. It seems to me that the door is open, but that Lord Citrine and his worthy colleagues hesitate on the threshold. I would not say a word against them; they are excellent, conscientious and able men, and they have worked extraordinarily hard both before and since vesting day. I am very sure that they are anxious, if they can, to run the straight race.
Perhaps it is difficult, on the face of it, to say just what it is that holds them back. I believe that one answer is that they are held back by an involved system of departmental checks and counterchecks left over from pre-nationalisation days. Besides my right hon. Friend's own Ministry, whose interest is quite natural, each new power station must be pushed, pulled and prodded into existence by many Government Departments. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Works, and, of course, the Treasury, all come into it. It may be that it is a very matey effort, but I am sure it does not make for speed. Amenity objections must obviously be heard, and I appreciate that the Treasury must take an interest in capital expenditure.
But I am sure it is not sound sense to have the Ministry of Works still looking after the civil engineering side and the Ministry of Supply looking after the manufacture of plant in the factory. Surely it would avoid such things happening as plant arriving on an unfinished site—and that kind of thing has happened not infrequently recently—if the British Electricity Authority and the generation divisions had full control of every aspect of new power station construction. I would commend that view to my right hon. Friend.
It is quite impossible in an Adjournment Debate of half an hour to raise many aspects of this extraordinarily important subject. I am not one of those people who believes we can have a neat and tidy little place for the solid fuel 1967 industry, a neat and tidy little place for the gas industry, with, of course, the electricity supply industry fitted in if there is anything left. I believe unashamedly in the complete electrification of this country and I believe it is absolutely essential if we mean to be taken seriously as a modern, efficient industrial power.
Nothing will hold back the urban and rural electricity consumer in this country from demanding cheap and abundant supplies of electricity. There is no reason to suppose, for instance, that with the passing of a year or so the demand for electricity will fall back. That has never been the case in the past and it is not the case in any country in the world. The demand for electricity shows no signs of reaching saturation point and therefore the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Government generally should act as if they also believed in the complete electrification of this country. That means for the time being the speedy construction of many new thermal power sations. The Severn Barrange scheme, atomic energy and all those things may come later. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to deal with these points.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) about the growth in demand for electricity which is probable, indeed certain, for many years to come. On the domestic side we all want to see greater facilities provided for housewives. We want to see rural electrification proceed as fast as possible to assist our farms and our country villages and, of course, we want to see more electricity made available to industry so that it can increase the amount of horsepower per worker and therefore increase productivity. I can assure my hon. Friend that all that is common ground, and as the Minister most closely concerned I can also assure him that we take the very closest interest in the whole of this problem.
My hon. Friend mentioned that, so far as he was aware, the last published figures which had been given in this matter were in the White Paper on the capital investment programme in 1947. He was not quite accurate, for the Economic Survey of 1948 also gave some 1968 figures on this matter but he'is, of course, absolutely right when he draws attention to the fact that the so-called estimates made there unfortunately turned out to be too optimistic. It is only fair, I think, to add that if he will look at the text of the Economic Survey he will see that the words used were extremely guarded and that those who drafted that document were well aware of the difficulties of prophesying in this field.
I should like to point out, first—not I admit for the first time—the way in which this position has arisen. One can do it, I think, most simply by giving these figures. In the calendar year 1938 the consumption of electricity in this country was 21 thousand million units. In the calendar year 1948 that consumption figure had precisely doubled. At the same time peak demand, which was 6,700 megawatts in the winter of 1938–39 had increased to 10,020 megawatts in 1947–48 an increase, it is interesting to notice, of almost precisely 50 per cent. That, of course, in itself is not unsatisfactory, because it indicates that the load has become much more spread in these last 10 years. However, the figure of 10,020 megawatts I have just quoted occurred in a mild winter and was, of course, influenced by load spreading. The estimate of peak demand for that year given in the Economic Survey was 10,950 megawatts, and if that figure had been reached the increase in the 1938–39 demand would have been substantially above 50 per cent. At the same time maximum capacity, which was 8,500 in 1938–39, had risen by 1947–48 in effect to only 9,380 megawatts. One can see, therefore, that the cause of the present gap was the increase of less than 1,000 megawatts in capacity against an increase of, perhaps, 4,000 megawatts in demand.
My hon. Friend dealt in some detail with the reasons for the short-fall in commissioning in 1948. The position, as a matter of fact, has not turned out to be quite so bad as we thought it would be, and for these reasons. The actual figure of maximum capacity last year, as I have already mentioned, was 9,380 megawatts. It rose in January of this year to 10,170 megawatts. That happens to be about 400 or 500 megawatts more than I estimated as recently as December. While it is true that the new commissioning in 1948 was badly behind, the British Elec- 1969 tricity Authority were able, I am glad to say, to keep in action a higher proportion of the plant than has been kept in action for some considerable time. The amount of plant taken out of service for repair and other reasons this winter was not 15 per cent., as we 'expected it would be, but only just over 11 per cent.; and that 4 per cent. improvement has, of course, made a very considerable difference to the whole situation, the amount of load shedding, and so on. At the same time, of course, this year we have had not only very satisfactory methods of load spreading by industrial consumers, but also by commercial consumers as well.
The net result of this is that we have had in fact rather less load shedding this winter than a year ago. The weather is partly responsible for that, because we happened to have the coldest spell this winter at Christmas, and this was fortunate since the industrial load was then much lighter. The number of days on which load was shed this winter is very much the same as last winter—three or four days less, in fact, but the maximum amount shed this winter has never been more than 500 megawatts. Last year, on four days, it was over 500 megawatts, and on two of those occasions it was over 750 megawatts. So, as it has turned out, the position is not, perhaps, quite so bad as my hon. Friend may have supposed. Nevertheless, I agree with him that it will be some considerable time before we can catch up on all those arrears.
If we turn to the prospect for the future, one can say this. First, the increase in demand, which he put at 6 per cent., is not, I think, quite such a certain figure as he thought. Six per cent. becomes, of course, a larger and larger amount the higher that the maximum demand becomes, and whereas 6 per cent. before the war might have meant something in the neighbourhood of, I suppose about 400 megawatts a year, of course it would mean considerably more than that on the larger figures of peak demand now. One has to remember that there may be tariff changes which would serve to spread the load more. There is, above all, the great uncertainty of the weather. Nevertheless, taking all these things into account I would agree with him that, in the year 1949 at any rate, we must expect a further growth of peak demand of 1970 something in the order of 700 to 800 megawatts.
The question arises as to what increase in generating capacity we shall have to set against that. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, in answer to a Question of the hon. Member in December, that we hoped to get into commission in 1949 something like 1,000 megawatts. He is quite right in saying that we have to deduct from that the amount to be withdrawn from service, and we have to make an allowance for repairs. It is true that when we have made these allowances, it does not look as though we shall be able to do much more than balance the increase in demand. The position next winter, given the same weather conditions, should therefore be about the same as this winter, although it might be better if the British Electricity Authority could improve on the amount of plant out of service for repair even further.
I do not propose tonight to give any further figures, and I would only add that we hope to begin to work off the deficit in the following year and contribute rather more towards reducing the gap in 1951. My hon. Friend seemed to doubt the energy and capacity of the British Electricity Authority to deal with the situation, but I do not think that there is justification for his strictures.
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not wish to be misunderstood. The point I was making was that I thought that, because of the continued intervention by many Government Departments, the British Electricity Authority were not able to take advantage of their opportunities.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can assure my hon. Friend that the only thing that holds up the satisfactory carrying out of the programme at the moment is the physical difficulty of getting the stations built, the boilers erected, and the turbines made. The Departments concerned are there to help the British Electricity Authority to do that. The British Electricity Authority will itself be taking over the progressing work gradually in the course of the next few months. The Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Supply, who are bound to be concerned with the different aspects of this problem, will assist as, of course, will my Department. But we have to face the fact that the 1971 amount of new plant which we hope to bring into commission in 1949 exceeds by at least one-third the highest figure ever achieved before the war, and we shall subsequently be going up to a figure which will be double the highest pre-war figure. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that it is not an easy thing to increase to this extent the capacity of the industries who are concerned with power station construction, and we cannot go at a greater speed than 1972 we are now doing. I can assure him, however, that we shall do our level best to keep up with the more realistic programme now being worked out, and that we are as anxious as he is to see the power stations in this country increased, for the reasons which I gave at the beginning of my remarks.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.