§ Order of the Day for the Second Reacting read.
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to effect certain amendments in the Electric Lighting Acts. The original Electric Lighting Act was passed in the year 1882, and an amending Act was passed six years later. The question of amendment was again considered in 1888, when a Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to consider the question on the motion of the then Lord Chairman of Committees, the late Lord Morley. Certain questions with regard to the amendment of these Acts were submitted to the Joint Committee, and they reported in every case in favour of amendment of the law. No legislation, however, was brought forward until the year 1904, when a Bill was introduced into this House by the noble Lord who then represented the Board of Trade, Lord Wolverton. That Bill went before a Select Committee and was given very careful consideration, and I suppose that it was on account of the very lengthy deliberations of that Committee that the Bill did not pass this House until within two or three days of the close of the session, with the result that it was not found possible to pass it through the other House of Parliament in the period of the session which remained. Your Lordships will thus see that legislation on this subject is certainly due, if it may not be said to be overdue.
The principal provisions of this Bill are to enable promoters of electric light and power undertakings to proceed by Provisional Order in almost all cases, instead of having to follow the more expensive and more cumbrous method of proceeding by private Bill. I say that this may be done in almost all cases, because in Clause 3 it will be seen that there is a limitation in regard to that. In the case of undertakings 494 for the supply of electricity in bulk, the Board of Trade may order that the promoters shall proceed by means of private Bill if they are of opinion that the nature and size of the undertaking are such as to render that course desirable. I think your Lordships will appreciate the reason for that, which is that in the case of unopposed Bills or Bills to which there is very little opposition the Provisional Order procedure offers certain advantages, because the opposition is ordinarily met in the course of the preliminary Inquiry by the Board of Trade and the confirming Bill goes forward as an unopposed measure, whereas in the case of larger undertakings and undertakings to which there is considerable opposition that preliminary Inquiry really only adds another stage to the fight which afterwards takes place in the Committee Rooms of the two Houses of Parliament. That is the principal provision of the Bill, and your Lordships will see, from the Memorandum attached to the Bill, that of the twenty-two operative clauses twelve are practically copied from the Bill which has already passed through your Lordships' House, the remaining ten dealing with small matters of a highly technical character which have arisen since the Bill of 1904 was introduced. I do not propose to trouble your Lordships by going into details on any of these matters; but, of course, I shall be perfectly prepared to deal with them, if necessary, in Committee.
The main portion of the Bill, the question of principle, has, as I have said, already been agreed to by the House and has been given careful consideration by a Select Committee. We therefore propose, with your Lordships' consent, to refer this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House and not to a Select Committee, and I believe that the noble Earl the Lord Chairman agrees to that course. Your Lordships will recollect that when the legislation on electric lighting was first introduced the practical application of electricity was in its infancy, and when we remember that during the last twenty years an enormous number of electric light and electric power installations have been established all over the country, and that during that period the science of electricity has made enormous strides, I think we may be surprised that the amendments now found necessary should be contained within so very narrow limits. I think that that fact is a very eloquent testimony to the care and fore 495 sight which were bestowed upon these matters when they were originally before Parliament. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, it is not my intention to offer any opposition to the proposal of the noble Lord. The main points in the Bill have been under the consideration of a Select Committee and, as far as I can see, there is nothing in the new clauses that was not considered by that Committee which will necessitate asking your Lordships to appoint a Select Committee to go further into the question. I therefore entirely concur with the noble Lord that the Bill is one which may be proceeded with in the ordinary course. I would, however, ask the noble Lord to allow a little time to elapse between this and the next stage of the Bill, in order that I may have an opportunity of consulting with him and with the advisers of the Board of Trade. There are a few points in the Bill which I think require a little consideration, but, on the whole, I am disposed to think that the measure is a step in the right direction. For some years past Parliament has been inclined to divest itself of those powers of private legislation which can be entrusted in the first instance to a Government Department, but which ultimately have to receive the sanction of Parliament in the shape of the confirmation of a Provisional Order; and the only criticism which I may have to offer on the Bill later is whether the control of Parliament by confirmation of a Provisional Order is quite sufficiently safeguarded by the Bill. With that reservation, I give my most cordial support to the Motion for the Second Reading.
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
I will consult with the noble Earl before putting the Bill down for the Committee stage.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.