HOUSE OF COMMONS.
STANDING COMMITTEE B.
ELECTEICITY (SUPPLY) BILL.
From 9th JULY to 13th NOVEMBER, 1919.42
The Committee consists of the following Members:—
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Chairman)
*Balfour, Mr. George
Barton, Sir William
Bell, Mr. James
Benn, Captain Wedgwood
Brown, Mr. James
Carter, Mr. William
Chamberlain, Mr. Neville
Craig, Lieut.-Commander Norman
Edwards, Mr. Charles
Edwards, Mr. John Hugh
Elliott, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George
Flannery, Sir James Fortescue
Geddes, Sir Eric
Graham, Mr. William
Guinness, Captain Rupert
Hall, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Frederick
*Hopkinson, Mr. Austin
Jones, Mr. John Joseph
Jones, Sir Evan
*Larmor, Sir Joseph
Richardson, Mr. Alexander
*Robinson, Mr. T.
Samuel, Mr. Arthur Michall
Short, Mr. Alfred
Shortt, Mr. Secretary
Stevens, Mr. Marshall
Taylor, Mr. John
Thorne, Col. William
*Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan
Williams, Col. Penry
Wood, Sir Kingsley
MR. W. P. JOHNSTON, Committee Clerks
Mr. O. WILLIAMS Committee Clerks
* Added in respect of the Electricity Supply Bill.43 44 STANDING COMMITTEE B Wednesday, 9th July, 1919
[Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS in the Chair.]
The CHAIRMAN: Before we commence the business I wish to consult the Committee as to the days and hours of meetings. Perhaps the Home Secretary may have something to say about it.
The SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt): I would suggest to the Committee that we pass a Standing Order that in the ordinary course of things we should meet at eleven and sit till one and meet again at four and sit till six. We tried that arrangement in the Committee on the Ways and Communications Bill, and we found it was quite convenient, indeed more convenient than we found it on the Aliens Bill, where we had no Standing Order. Of course, the Standing Order can always be suspended and we can always do what we like, but still we should know where we are, unless somebody makes a special motion to the Committee, and for that reason I suggest that we should make the same Standing Order that we did in the Ways and Communications Committee, namely, that we sit, unless the Committee otherwise decides at any moment, from eleven till one and from four to six on three days a week, namely, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Mr. MARRIOTT: I am sorry to have to suggest that the Home Secretary's motion be not accepted. He says that if we pass the Standing Order we shall know where we are. Well, we shall know that for the whole of our Parliamentary time practically we have got to be in this room until this Committee stage is completed. If I might with great respect say so, I think I speak on behalf of a number of private Members who really feel themselves quite unable to give up the whole of their Parliamentary time, even to a very important Standing Committee such as this, and I do hope the Home Secretary will not ask us to meet three days a week both morning and afternoon—at least not to make a Standing Order to that effect. Of course, at any time it would be competent to move that we do so meet. I hope he will accept a motion that we should meet in the morning only. There is very important Government business, as 45 the Home Secretary knows better than anyone else, coming on in the afternoons, and to take from four to six, which is the best Parliamentary time, on three Parliamentary days of the week is, I submit, more than we ought to be asked to do.
Sir KINGSLEY WOOD: I rise to support the suggestion of my hon. Friend. It is becoming increasingly difficult for private members, especially those who have some business to attend to apart from the business of the House, to attend these Committees on the lines indicated by the Home Secretary. I am sure he desires that people who are connected with commercial affairs should continue to be in attendance at these Committees, and it is getting increasingly difficult; in fact, in very many cases it is almost impossible. Whether the precedent which he suggests is a happy one in connection with the progress made with the Ways and Communications Bill, I do not know, but I think there are other ways of making progress than that. I think it would be sufficient during the first few sittings at any rate, until we see what progress is made, for us to sit merely in the mornings.
Mr. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN: I confess I was astounded at my right hon. Friend's remarks that the method adopted and the progress in the Ways and Communications Bill had been found convenient. Nothing more inconvenient could possibly have been found, and it is because of the excessive and intolerable inconvenience that we experienced during the passage of that Bill that I rise also to protest against our having to. give up three days, morning and afternoon, for the Bill now before us. I recognise that the Government want to get this Bill through before the recess, and none of us desire to delay it, but it seems very likely that in the course of the present week we shall be able to see how far the Bill is going to be an agreed measure or how far it is going to be the sort of fight we had over the Ways and Communications Bill. If it turns out that we can come to a general agreement with the Government on the main point of principle in the Bill, it probably will not take very long in Committee, and in that case it will be unnecessary for us to sit three days a week, morning and afternoon. I would therefore suggest, with great respect to my Right Hon. Friend, that he should withdraw his motion and not ask us to pass a standing order to-day, but that he should wait until next week, when I think he will be able to form a pretty good idea of the time required to get the Bill through Committee and then come before us with whatever proposition seems to him necessary and suitable to meet the convenience of the Government.
Mr. SHORTT: The reason why I said that it was a convenient method adopted in the Ways and Communications Bill was that we got through a considerable amount of work in the afternoons, and we got the Bill through.46
Sir K. WOOD: Over a very protracted period.
Mr. SHORTT: A much less period than it would otherwise have been, but in this as in all matters I am entirely in the hands of the Committee. The Government want to get the Bill through as quickly as possible, and I am quite satisfied that the large majority of the Committee wish to do the same, and if the Committee desire only to sit in the mornings, I of course bow to their decision. It seems to me that the view of the Committee is that they should not sit in the afternoons, and if that is so I withdraw the suggestion I made, and we can see how we get on, and if it does become necessary to do so I will put it again to the Committee.
Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR: I would like to make a suggestion, that after we adjourn this morning it might save a considerable amount of time in the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would take an opportunity of exchanging views with various members of the Committee who have amendments on the paper, and by so doing, possibly by the time we re-assemble on Tuesday next we may have been able to get rid of a lot of the contentious matter and save a great deal of the time of the Committee. If we fail by Tuesday to accomplish a certain amount of progress in that manner I think if the right hon. Gentleman brought forward his motion again, then we could reconsider the matter of sitting both in the mornings and afternoons.
The CHAIRMAN: I take the feeling of the Committee to be that at present until further notice the Committee shall only meet in the mornings.
Mr. NEAL: May we have the time fixed from eleven till one?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, the time is usually from eleven till one.
Sir K. WOOD: I think the chief difficulty we shall come to is in connection with Clause 5, and if the Home Secretary would agree before we reach that that a conference should take place I feel sure the proceedings of the Committee will be greatly expedited. I think most of my hon. Friends desire to assist the right hon. Gentleman in connection with this measure, and it is purely with a view to expediting the proceedings that I think the suggestion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) is a very valuable one.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL: I hope there are not going to be any organised hole-and-corner meetings. On the Ways and Communications Bill the right hon. Gentleman informally met, as is the usual practice in these Grand Committees, members of the Committee, but I do not want it to go forward that there is going to be a regular system 47 of meetings between members getting matters more or less settled without them coming up before the Committee.
Sir K. WOOD: They are bound to come up before the Committee.
Sir F. HALL: The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the Ways and Communications Bill. Very often there was a little chat over matters, and if that is going to be the manner in which this Bill is to be carried through I entirely endorse it, but I protest most strongly against what I may call a cut and dried policy arranged between various members of the Committee, assisted, perhaps, by members of His Majesty's Government. If we can facilitate the work of the Committee let us do it, but let us perfectly understand that we are not going to allow any section of the Committee to bring forward any part of the Bill and look upon it as an agreed measure with the Government. We want to help the Bill along, and I hope it will not be eighteen days getting through Committee, as was the case with the Ways and Communications Bill.
Mr. ROYCE: I hope the hon. Member will take his advocacy to heart. I think, referring to the Ways and Communications Bill, he was one of the greatest sinners, and, after the manner in which he consulted and agreed with the Government or his party, I think his admonitions come from a very kindly source but not a very reliable one.
Mr. SHORTT: So far as I am concerned, I should welcome any kind of negotiation which would expedite the Bill. Of course we cannot settle, behind the backs of the Committee, anything, but we can very often, by negotiation and meetings, and concession and so on between one side and the other, secure a majority in the Committee for the Bill. I rejoice to think my hon. and gallant Friend is going to be so very reasonable on this Committee, and I shall be glad to meet him, though I found it very difficult on other Committees, and if he can bring a majority of the Committee with him, our discussion will have been all for the good; but, certainly, so far as the Government is concerned, we shall be very glad indeed to meet any members of the Committee, and discuss any matters about which there is any difficulty.
The CHAIRMAN: Do I quite understand the position to be that, after this morning's discussion, we meet again tomorraw morning, or do the Committee wish the next meeting to be next Tuesday at 11 o'clock?
The Committee signified assent.
The CHAIRMAN: Is it the wish of the Committee that an Official Report of the proceedings be taken?48
Mr. SHORTT: I move that we have an Official Report. It is a very important Bill, and there ought to he an Official Report.
Question put, and agreed to.
(1) For promoting, regulating, and supervising the supply of electricity there shall be established as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, a body to be called the Electricity Commissioners, who shall have such powers and duties as are con ferred on them by or under this Act, and shall act under the directions of the Board of Trade.
Mr. A. SHORT: I beg to move, in subsection (1), after the word "For" ["For promoting, regulating,"] to insert the word "providing." This is a consequential Amendment in view of what takes place on Clause 6 of the Bill. What we desire to do is to give to the Electricity Commissioners greater power than appears to be given to them in this Clause. I have to point out, in support of this Amendment, that in Clause 6 we give power to the district electricity boards constituted under this Act "to provide or secure the provision of a cheap and abundant supply of electricity." It seems foolish to give the district boards that power if, on the other hand, we do not give power to the main body, the Electricity Commissioners, who are going to govern and set up the district boards.
Mr. SHORTT: I think if my hon. Friend considers, he will find that this Amendment is really quite unnecessary. The business of the Electricity Commissioners is that of supervising, regulating and guiding. The duty of 49 actually providing is that of the district boards, and all that is necessary for the Electricity Commissioners to have power to secure that the supply and distribution of electricity is adequate and efficient is provided for in the words" regulating and supervising the supply." The Commissioners themselves cannot possibly be expected to do the actual distributing. It is their business to see that the district boards either do it themselves or have it done by somebody else, and that is amply provided for by the words "regulating and supervising the supply of electricity." Therefore, I hope my hon. Friend will see that his Amendment is unnecessary for the due supply of electricity.
Mr. G. BALFOUR: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "and" ["and shall act under"] to insert the words "subject thereto." I think this does not require any explanation, and, in my view, it improves the wording of the clause.
Mr. SHORTT: I confess I do not understand why it is sought to put these words in. Of course everything is subject to the provisions of the Act. If it is merely drafting, that is one thing, and it does not so much matter, but if it is in some way connected with a number of subsequent amendments of my hon. Friend, which are all directed to destroying part of the main edifice of the Bill, I shall have to consider it. I would really like to know what my hon. Friend is driving at, and, unless I get some sort of explanation, I would ask the Committee not to accept the amendment.
Mr. G. BALFOUR: In answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I can only say that this amendment is put down in absolute innocence of any ulterior motive, and is not connected with any amendment in. my name, I simply suggest that it makes the clause better, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the amendment in that spirit.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Words having, a similar effect to this were inserted in both the Ways and Communications Bill and, I think, the Ministry of Health Bill. In both cases there were somewhat similar clauses directing that certain powers should be given to the Ministry, and in both cases they were confined within the limits of the Bill.
Mr. SHORTT: I do not object if there be nothing ulterior.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In Sub-section (1) after the word "the" ["under the directions of"] insert the word "general"— [Mr. Shortt].50
Commander DAWES: I beg to move, in Sub-section (2) after the word "chairman" ["one shall be chairman"] to insert the words "and one shall be a person on the directing body of an electricity undertaking owned by a local authority." The amendment, of course, speaks for itself, but I think something specific should be put in providing for the representation of Local Authorities on the Electricity Commission. There has been unquestionably before now competition and difficulties, and a certain amount of distrust by Local Authorities of private companies, and the only object of this Amendment is to ensure that at least one of the Commissioners shall be a person actually serving, or who has served, on the Board of an electricity undertaking owned by a public authority. I hope the Home Secretary will see his way to accept this, because, although one has the greatest respect for the commercial intelligence and so on of the country, it is only right that all bodies having electricity undertakings should be represented on the Commission. There is no doubt a commercial name will be put on, and I think the position of the Local Authorities ought to be safeguarded.
Mr. SHORTT: I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. The object of the Electricity Commission is not so much to represent any individual interests amongst those who supply electricity, as it is to see that those who supply electricity should give as sufficient and cheap a supply as possible to the whole of the industrial community. That is their object, and their duties are not to represent any individual class of electricity supply. It may perhaps be as well if I tell the Committee now exactly what the Government have in their minds with regard to these Commissioners. So far as possible, they will be whole-time officers. It might be—and there is a subsequent Amendment on which I shall discuss that point, but I do not think it would be well to put it down in black and white in an Act of Parliament—that all five should be whole-time officers. I think, however, a margin should be left, and I propose to suggest to my hon. Friend that he should limit it to three whole-time officers in an Act of Parliament. It is proposed that three of them should be engineers, and one would be an engineer of experience in the working of municipal supply and another an engineer of experience in the working of a power company supply. By that means you would get men trained and experienced in the supply of electricity throughout the country. One of them would deal with finance, and one would be a trained public servant with knowledge of law and administration, and the view is you would thus get a highly competent, highly experienced and skilled body, absolutely impartial, without any axe to grind of their own or anybody else's, hut who would really be the most competent body we can get to regulate the general 51 policy of supply, to see that the supply is sufficient and efficient, and as cheap as possible, and it would be free at any rate from any pulling of strings by any particular class, be it a power company or a municipal undertaker who would have some desire or some policy of their own. For that reason, and that being the policy which the Government intend, and hope the Committee will accept, I would ask my hon. Friend not to press this Amendment.
Commander DAWES: May we know who the other two are to be?
Mr. SHORTT: Three engineers, one a skilled financier to look after finance, and the other skilled in law and administration —a trained civil servant.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: Will these appointments be independent of any change of Government?
Mr. SHORTT: The provision is, as my hon. and learned Friend will see, that "in the case of two of the Commissioners the term of office shall be such as may be fixed by the Board of Trade at the time when the appointment is made; the other Commissioners shall hold office during His Majesty's pleasure."
Commander DAWES: I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, in view of the Home Secretary's statement.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON: I beg to move in sub-section (2) after the word "chairman" ["shall be chairman"] to insert the words "they shall be whole-time officers having no other interests whatever than the special duties which it is proposed to confer upon them under this Act." I think, after what the Home Secretary has just said, there is no need for me to pursue the matter, because all his arguments pointed, not merely to the desirability of having 3, but 5 independent and whole-time officers. I take it that never have public officers been appointed before with such expensive duties and such drastic powers as these. I think it is very desirable, to use the Home Secretary's words, that they should have no axe to grind—the whole five and not the three as the right hon. Gentleman suggests; and that the whole five should be free from any suggestion of pulling strings on behalf of any outside interest. I thank the Home Secretary for these expressions, because he put it very much more strongly than I could have dared to have used, the feelings in the minds of all of us that if it is good for the three who are to be engineers then it is surely good for the five, including the one interested in finance and the one interested in law and adminis- 52 tration. I cannot conceive how any of these should have other than the public interest. The Bill is so comprehensive that the whole time of every individual will be fully occupied, and I think it is very desirable at the very outset to establish the principle that these five men who will have tremendous powers over the development of electricity in this country should be entirely free and independent, having no axes to grind and be men whom the whole electrical world therefore can look up to.
Mr. SHORTT: I would be perfectly willing to accept the words "three of whom shall be whole time officers," but I cannot accept the Amendment as it stands as to the five or the rest of the words of the Amendment. The principle underlying my position is this: Whilst I suggest that three instead of five should be whole-time officers, we cannot tell now, but it may be at some time advisable, to put on some particular man who could not undertake the duties as a whole-time officer, and if you leave two unprovided for as Commissioners it gives you scope to appoint a man who is not a whole-time officer for some period of time or for special circumstances. I therefore ask that some elasticity should be provided for by requiring only three to be full-time officers. With regard to the rest of the Amendment the words are far too stringent. It is quite true we do not want a man to have special interest which would affect his sound and impartial judgment in his conduct as an Electricity Commissioner, but why you should take away from him. as the Amendment would, any interest in his wife and family I cannot imagine. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman not to press his Amendment.
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Gentleman accept the suggestion of the Home Secretary.
Mr. THOMSON: We are legislating for all time and therefore we must provide against all possibilities. I do feel that very strongly. I know that a very large body of opinion in the country feels the same and thinks all the five should be whole-time officers. As to the Home Secretary's remark about a man's interest in his wife and family the right hon. Gentleman is not serious.
|Division No. 1.]||AYES|
|Balfour, Mr. George||Johnstone, Mr.||Raffan, Mr.|
|Carter, Mr. William||Kiley, Mr.||Short Mr. Alfred|
|Entwistle, Major||Manville, Mr.||Taylor, Mr. John|
|Graham, Mr. William||Moreing, Captain||Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan|
|Barnes, Major||Edgar, Mr.||Prescott, Major|
|Bowyer, Captain||Gange Mr.||Roundell, Lieutenant-Colonel|
|Bridgeman, Mr.||Guinness Captain Rupert||Royce, Mr.|
|Carr, Mr.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Frederick||Samuel, Mr. Arthur|
|Chamberlain, Mr. Neville||Haslam, Mr.||Shortt, Mr. Secretary|
|Cope, Major||Larmor, Sir Joseph||Steel, Major|
|Craig, Lieut.-Commander Norman||MacVeagh, Mr.||Stevens, Mr. Marshall|
|Dawes, Commander||Marriott, Mr.||Vickers, Mr.|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Pinkham, Colonel||Waddington Mr.|
Sir F. HALL: I quite realise the idea of the hon. Gentleman but I think the suggestion made by the Home Secretary ought to meet the case. I cannot think that my hon. Friend can have read very carefully the whole of his Amendment otherwise he would not have put it in the language he has used. He says that the Commissioner shall have no interests whatever outside his duties as Commissioner of the electrical undertaking. My hon. Friend cannot mean that. We all have many interests. Many of us unfortunately have too many interests at present owing to the Committee sittings of the House. If you are going to limit it in every way you will get nobody to act as Commissioner and I think my hon. Friend might see his way to accept the proposal of the Home Secretary.
Mr. ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL: It appears to me that the Amendment would be entirely inoperative. For instance, take the case of the Municipality with which I have been identified for many years. In that case, if you appointed the Commissioner there to look after the electricity of the neighbourhood he could not possibly be a shareholder in the local water company supplying water to the undertaking. There are many instances in which, under the Amendment, a man's interest would clash with those of the electrical undertaking. I think the Amendment proposed is entirely unworkable and I ask the Committee to oppose it.
Mr. W. GRAHAM: On a point of order. Later in the Order Paper there is an Amendment providing that the Commissioners shall be full-time officers. Is it your ruling, in the event of this Amendment being rejected now, that that would rule out of discussion the later proposal, which, in the opinion of some of us at all events, is better calculated to meet the difficulty.
The CHAIRMAN: That would be so.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
The Committee divided. Ayes 12, Noes 27.54
Major BARNES: On a point of order, Sir. With very great respect, may I ask you to reconsider your ruling that the vote we have just given rules out a later Amendment which deals simply with the question of full-time officers? I voted against the Amendment on the grounds put forward by the Home Secretary, that it was far too wide and that the words of the Amendment would exclude the Commissioners from having any other interest at all. It was impossible to accept an Amendment of this kind, but if an Amendment dealing exclusively with the question of whole-time had been moved I should have voted for it, and I submit that we should be able to discuss that point quite apart from the other points raised. Otherwise, although I voted against this Amendment, I should have voted for the other.
The CHAIRMAN: I think the Committee has decided against that.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: On a point of order. Would not the proper course for the hon. Member who has just spoken have been to move as an Amendment to the Amendment to leave out the words to which he objects, and has he not raised the point of order too late?
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid it is too late.
Mr. RAFFAN: On a point of order. May I ask if the Home Secretary intends to move the Amendment he suggested; or is his view that, his offer not having been accepted, he does not intend to bring it forward.
Mr. SHORTT: I offered it to the hon. Member and he did not accept it, and there it ends.
Mr. RAFFAN: Then you do not intend to move it?
Mr. SHORTT: I would have accepted the Amendment had the hon. Member agreed to my suggestion, but it was not accepted.
Mr. RAFFAN: May I ask, Mr. Chairman, whether I would be in order now in moving an Amendment on the lines which the Home Secretary indicated, that three of the officers should be full-time officers?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, I think that would be in order.
Mr. RAFFAN: Then I will subsequently move.
Viscount DUNCANNON: I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "in the case of two of." 55 There is also the Amendment following which I shall move in order to raise the whole question of the members appointed by the Board of Trade and of those who shall hold office "during His Majesty's pleasure." The Home Secretary, speaking just now, said it was not proposed that any of the Commissioners should be political appointments. I should like to ask him to give the Committee a further explanation in view of the arrangements of the Clause. Will the Home Secretary say what the phrase "during His Majesty's pleasure" means; if it does not mean that the appointments are those of the Government of the day, and in that sense, therefore, political appointments? If the Commissioners are liable to change according to what Government is in power?
Mr. SHORTT: It is a permanent appointment.
Viscount DUNCANNON: It may be that the change will bring in men that will be foreign to their work. But if, as the Home Secretary has just said, the majority are permanent appointments, and the minority of two are for the time fixed by the Board of Trade, I will not press the point any further. I also desire to move the further words I am proposing in order to raise the question which has already come up of the Commissioners being full-time officers, and that they shall be selected for their practical and scientific knowledge and their business experience. No doubt, from what the Home Secretary has told us, that is the intention of the Government. If what the Home Secretary has said is so, would it not be well to insert some words in the terms of the Bill which will cover those qualifications, in order that the public and the industry may from the outset have that confidence in the Commissioners which, I am sure, we all agree will be required if they are successfully to carry out their very important duties.
Mr. SHORTT: I hope my noble Friend will not press this, because it will prevent making provision for the two of the Commissioners appointed for a term of office fixed by the Board of Trade at the time the appointment is made. I do not know whether that is the intention of my hon. Friend. If he withdraws his Amendment, any alteration in the wording necessary can subsequently be made, and then we can discuss his second Amendment on its merits. In the meantime I must oppose the omission of the words "in the case of two of" to preserve the provision that two of the Commissioners shall be appointed for a term of office fixed by the Board of Trade.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: The Home Secretary has missed the point. The proposal of my noble Friend does not prevent the term of the two being fixed but insures 56 that the whole of the Commissioners' terms of office shall be fixed by the Board of Trade. It has a direct bearing upon the two subsequent Amendments which stand in the name of the noble Lord, and of the noble Lord and myself, to strike out the words they "shall hold office during His Majesty's pleasure." The purpose of the combined amendments, this is the first of the three, is to make the whole of the Commissioners' appointments by agreement under the Board of Trade, and to withdraw the element of chance involved in change of Government at different times. The Clause would then read in such a way as to take out the element of chance involved in "His Majesty's pleasure," which means the pleasure of the Government of the day.
Mr. SHORTT: That is exactly what it does not mean.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: The right horn. Gentleman says it does not. I do not understand the meaning of the words if it does not. Who is the mouthpiece of His Majesty's pleasure but the Government?
Mr. MARRIOTT: If the hon. Member (Lieut.-Com. Craig) correctly interprets the meaning of the noble Lord, which I think he does not in this matter, I shall feel it my duty very strongly to oppose this Amendment. I think, if I may venture to say so, there is some little misapprehension as to the meaning of a perfectly well understood legal term. The term "during His Majesty's pleasure" means a permanent appointment as I understand it.
Mr. SHORTT: Hear, hear!
Mr. MARRIOTT: The motion just made by the noble Lord as interpreted by the hon. Member means that the whole of the five Commissioners should be temporary officers appointed by the Board of Trade. I take it that the object of a very large number of Members of this Committee is to remove these appointments so far as possible from political influences. If this Amendment is carried as interpreted by my hon. Friend the effect of the Amendment would be to make all five Commissioners hold office at the pleasure of the Board of Trade. That is to say, they might be political officers. That being so, I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment. In any case I shall very strongly oppose it.
Sir KINGSLEY WOOD: I support that. I think the experience of most people in regard to Commissioners appointed for a term—we have had some examples quite recently—is that where the term is just expiring, and during the last year or 18 months 57 of their office, they have been doing everything they can to facilitate what they believe are the intentions of the Government with a view to getting their term renewed at the end of the period. If you want independence of the Government undoubtedly you must keep in the phrase "during his Majesty's pleasure" which, as I understand it, and always have understood it, practically means as permanent an appointment as can be made under the Crown to-day. Directly you begin to fix a term you find Commissioners, especially at the end of the term, becoming the obedient slaves of His Majesty's Government instead of exercising that independence which the Committee desire. We want these people to be independent of the Government. The phrase I do not like is under the "direction" of the Board of Trade. How they are to act independently and at the same time under the Board of Trade, which practically means acting under the directions of the President of the Board of Trade, I do not see. That is where I see the danger of interference of the Government in the acts and duties of these Commissioners. If we want to make them independent we shall have to stick to the phrase which is now in the Bill. The danger I see, which perhaps the Home Secretary will explain, is how the Board of Trade is going to exercise its functions in connection with these Commissioners. I know cases where after the Commissioners have been appointed a minute has been prepared by the Minister in charge who has laid down exactly what the Commissioners are to do and not to do. Is that possible under this Bill?
Mr. SHORTT: Not as a minute, but as general directions!
Sir K. WOOD: The difficulty I foresee is the Minister has to answer in the House of Commons, I take it, for these Commissioners. He cannot answer for them unless they are to a certain extent under the direction of the Minister of the day. That has to be preserved, otherwise the House of Commons would have no power over these Commissioners. The matter certainly wants a great deal of delicate balancing to preserve the rights of the Minister in the House of Commons and at the same time to give independence to the Commissioners.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I think we must be a little careful that in avoiding one danger you do not run into another. I rather hope that the noble Lord will persist in his Amendment. I confess that taking the interpretation of these words "during His Majesty's pleasure" as meaning that these Commissioners are to be appointed for life—that they are permanent appointments —it does seem to me that this is tying ourselves up rather dangerously to particular individuals who may be at first 58 appointed. These five Commissioners are to be experts. They are really to have the control of the methods of the generation of electricity throughout the country. It is highly important that they should be fully apprised of the progress of the science. Remember, they will not be in the position that engineers in companies working for profit are, that they have got to compete against other people and have therefore the strongest possible stimulus to keep themselves up-to-date. These people, it is now suggested, should be permanently appointed, and in that case they would have only to sit there, keep quiet, and draw their salaries, and it appears to me that it is desirable to have a power of reviewing the fitness of these gentlemen for their positions from time to time. It does not necessarily mean, if they are appointed by the Board of Trade for such term as the Board may determine, that they would all go out of office together, and words might be put in to provide for that if necessary. The Board of Trade could fix different terms for different members of the Commission, but I feel that there is a very serious danger lest in trying to avoid the political influence you should too greatly stereotype and fossilise these appointments by making them permanent.
Mr. JOHNSTONE: I differ from my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and I think that of the two evils the lesser would be to make the appointments permanent. I think the noble Lord who moved the Amendment has misunderstood the meaning of the words "during His Majesty's pleasure." An hon. Member said they were to act under the direction of the Board of Trade, but I understand that the purpose is to transfer the powers under this Act to the Ministry of Ways and Communications, and these Commissioners will therefore act under the directions of the Minister-Designate of Ways and Communications. I feel that it would be far better for the Commissioners to be permanent officials with some degree of independence and impartiality than that they should be subject to be removed from time to time and be too much under the influence of the Minister. I hope the Amendment will be withdrawn.
Mr. SHORTT: I hope my noble Friend will not press the Amendment if his real intention is to provide that there shall be no absolutely permanent official connected with these Electricity Commissioners. It is perfectly true that it is well to have some elasticity and some of them appointed for a fixed period of time, but it is essential, and I ask the Committee so to consider it, that there should be an element of permanency about it. Some of them ought to be trained permanent men. They would be paid officials subject, as any other Civil Servants would be, and if they chose to stay at home and 59 draw their salaries and do nothing they could do so, but they could not go on for ever, and if they were inefficient they could be promoted or put on pension! At any rate, you would have that stability which comes from permanent appointment, and in period of time men will train themselves specially for these appointments. It is the first appointments only that there would be any real danger about, but an element of permanency is most important, and we should be very ill-advised to have the whole five of the Commissioners retiring by rotation and probably working the whole time for re-appointment, especially if the salaries are such as we hope the Treasury and the House of Commons will approve of. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
Viscount DUNCANNON: In view of the Home Secretary's statement, I will ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, so long as it is clear that it does not prejudice the subsequent Amendment in my name. With regard to the President of the Board of Trade, am I right in. understanding that the Committee passed an Amendment standing in the Home Secretary's name to insert the word "general" in Sub-section (1)?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. RAFFAN: I beg to move, in Subsection (2) at the end to insert the words "and three of the Commissioners shall devote the whole of their time to the performance of their duties under this Act and shall not accept or hold any office or employment inconsistent with thi3 provision." I am willing to be advised by the Home Secretary as to the exact form of words, however.
The CHAIRMAN: I understand the Home Secretary wishes the hon. Member's Amendment to be in this form: "and three of the Commissioners shall be whole time officers."
Mr. RAFFAN: That will meet my view.
Amendment made to the proposed Amendment: Leave out all the words after the word "shall," and insert instead thereof the words "be whole time officers."
Major BARNES: Would it be in order to move that the word "all" should be substituted for the word "three," so that we might have a straight vote on the question?
The CHAIRMAN: No, I think the Committee negatived that before. Words, as amended, there inserted.60
Viscount DUNCANNON: I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), after the words last inserted, to add the words "The Commissioners shall be selected for practical, commercial, and scientific knowledge and wide business experience, including that of electrical supply." The Home Secretary has already given us a statement as to the intention of the Government, and I hope he will be able to accept the Amendment.
Mr. SHORTT: I would ask my noble Friend to alter these words. It is proposed that one Member shall be a Member to deal with finance and another shall be a Member trained in Civil and local administration, and neither of these would be provided for in those words. If we accepted those words as they stand it would prevent us appointing a financial expert and a trained Civil Servant, and therefore if my noble Friend will say "Three of the Commissioners" that will cover the three engineers, and I shall be willing to have his amendment in that form. I do not think the Amendment is necessary, but if the Committee feel safer with it I am willing to accept it.
Viscount DUNCANNON: I will accept the suggested alteration. Amendment made to the proposed Amendment: At the beginning, insert the words "Three of."
Major BARNES: I would like to ask the Home Secretary whether in his opinion the words "and wide business experience, including that of electrical supply" would exclude the possibility of an engineer of a local authority being appointed.
Mr. SHORTT: I think it would probably include him.
Major BARNES: It would be no disqualification at all?
Mr. SHORTT: So far as this Government are concerned these words will be interpreted as including an engineer with experience on a local authority
Sir F. HALL: We all agree with the spirit of the Amendment, and I want to be sure that the word "commercial" will not necessarily exclude an electrical engineer. I think these professional gentlemen have a great knowledge of scientific matters would not necessarily be included under the term "commercial," and we want to make sure that they will not be excluded under this Amendment.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: As three of these Commissioners are already to be whole-time officers, would it not be a convenience to make those three also the three who were to be selected for these particular qualities? It would simplify the drafting of the Bill somewhat.61
Mr. G. BALFOUR: I wish to say a word in support of the Amendment. Speaking from considerable experience in the administration of these affairs, I think it is wise to embody words enabling the Government to choose either an engineer or a financier, and I think the words proposed would really give effect to that. It would leave you free if you found an engineer skilled and sufficiently able in administrative affairs to give him the position of a Commissioner, and it would not bar a stockbroker from having the position if he had the necessary qualities.
Captain MORNING: I am certain the Government would not intend to have these Commissioners appointed for anything but their knowledge, experience, and general fitness, and I would suggest that the Amendment unnecessarily fetters the hands of the Government of the day, and that we should do better to leave the appointment of these Commissioners to the good sense of the Government at the time being.
Sir F. HALL: I would like to suggest that after the word "and" in the Amendment we should insert the word "or."
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. Bridgeman): Would it not be better that the word "or" should be put in instead of the word "and"? The great danger seems to be that a man would be required to have more qualifications under the Amendment than are necessary, and the Amendment might be interpreted to mean that each of the men should have practical, commercial, and scientific knowledge and wide business experience. I can well conceive of a man having no commercial knowledge who would be just the man wanted, and I therefore think the case would be met if you put the word "or" instead of the word "and."
Viscount DUNCANNON: I will accept that alteration.
The CHAIRMAN: Do you mean in both cases where "and" appears?
Mr. SHORTT: Yes, in both cases.
Amendments made to the proposed Amendment: Leave out the word "and" ["commercial and scientific"] and insert instead thereof the word "or"; leave out the word "and" ["knowledge and wide business"] and insert instead thereof the word "or."
Mr. THOMSON: I support the suggestion that the effect of these words would be to defeat the object of the Committee by limiting the choice of men who may be appointed Electricity Commissioners hereafter. The Government have given their assurance that these qualifying words would not exclude men who have had experience only on Local Authorities and Municipal undertak- 62 ings. I can conceive, however, that there might be some Government in the future who would read into these words exactly the opposite, and I therefore suggest to the Committee that the omission of the words would leave a freer hand to the Government to get the best men for the position.
|Division No. 2.]||AYES|
|Balfour, Mr. George||Entwistle, Major||Robinson, Mr. T.|
|Bowyer, Captain||Gange, Mr.||Roundell, Lieutenant-Colonel|
|Carter, Mr. William||Guinness, Captain Rupert||Shortt, Mr. Secretary|
|Chamberlain, Mr. Neville||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Frederick||Steel, Major|
|Craig, Lieut.-Commander Norman||Haslam, Mr.||Stevens, Mr. Marshall|
|Dawes, Commander||Johnstone, Mr.||Vickers, Mr.|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Marriott, Mr.||Wood, Sir Kingsley|
|Barnes, Major||Kiley, Mr.||Royce, Mr.|
|Bridgeman, Mr.||Larmor, Sir Joseph||Short, Mr. Alfred|
|Carr, Mr.||Moreing, Captain||Taylor, Mr. John|
|Cope, Major||Pinkham, Colonel||Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan|
|Graham, Mr. William||Prescott, Major||Waddington, Mr.|
Mr. WADDINGTO: I beg to move after Sub-section (2) to insert as a new Sub-section (3) A person shall be disqualified from being appointed a Commissioner if he has directly or indirectly any share or interest in any electrical undertaking other than that of a local authority. I think the discussion this morning has, to some extent, dealt with the subject matter of this Amendment, and perhaps it will be unnecessary for me to emphasise the necessity of adopting it. I think the Committee are agreed that it is undesirable that any Commissioners should have any interest in anything appertaining to the work of the Commission. The previous Amendment suggested that he should have no interest in anything whatever. This Amendment does limit it to the particular requirements of the particular case.
Mr. SHORTT: I shall be quite prepared to ask the Committee to accept these words if my hon. Friend will leave out the words "other than that of a local authority." I do not see why the two different kinds of electricity should be treated differently, and if he will except these words I shall be quite ready to ask the Committee to accept the Amendment.
Mr. WADDINGTON: I am prepared to agree to the proposal of the Home Secretary.
Mr. MARRIOTT: Would the exclusion of these words exclude all ratepayers? I imagine the words were inserted in the Amendment in order to make it clear that a ratepayer might be appointed one of those Commissioners, but if that is not the effect I have no objection at all to the Amendment of the Amendment. I want to make quite clear, however, before we vote.63
Question put, That the words "Three of the Commissioners shall be selected for practical, commercial, or scientific knowledge or wide business experience, including that of electrical supply," be there inserted.
The Committee divided: Ayes, 22; Noes, 15.
Sir K. WOOD: I think the Home Secretary will have to consider these words, because in the Housing Bill and one or two other Bills this matter has had to be safeguarded by some suitable words. I do not know whether it is the idea of my hon. Friend to get over this, but, obviously, if anybody connected with an electricity undertaking must be excluded, so must, in general terms, anyone connected with a local authority. I agree with the Home Secretary in principle, but there is the difficulty that obviously every one of these men must be a ratepayer. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider that.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: By interest is meant some beneficiary interest. Is it not the fact that the only interest of the ratepayer is in paying out?
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: That is quite a mistake. Ratepayers have a very considerable financial interest in a local authority's undertaking, which frequently makes contributions in relief of rates.
Mr. SHORTT: I confess this is a matter which had not occurred to me, and is one of considerable difficulty. If my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment, it can be brought in at a later period. We do not want to be met by a sudden block merely because we cannot appoint any ratepayer who lives anywhere where there is an electricity undertaking belonging to a local authority. Therefore, I would ask my hon. Friend to withdraw this, and it shall be considered.
Major BARNES: I think the Home Secretary is quite right to accept an Amendment which would exclude the beneficiary interest of anybody, but he wishes to avoid a pitfall. If he will give an assurance that he will 64 accept an Amendment at a later date confined to the first point, I think the Amendment might be withdrawn.
Mr. WADDINGTON: On the assurance of the Home Secretary, I agree to the withdrawal of the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Board of Trade may exercise through the Electricity Commissioners any of their powers and duties under the Electric Lighting Acts or the orders made thereunder or under any local Acts relating to the supply of electricity.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: I beg to move "to leave out the word 'may' and to insert instead thereof the word 'shall.'" As the Clause reads, the Board of Trade may exercise, through the Electricity Commissioners, any of their powers and duties. Surely the Committee does not desire, in creating the Electricity Commissioners, to do anything more than make them act under the general direction which we have already decided shall be given by the Board of Trade. But to leave it a permissive matter in the hands of the Board of Trade, to say whether they will delegate their powers to the Electricity Commissioners or not, is to spoil the whole purpose of the Bill. Surely "shall" ought to be inserted so that the Electricity Commissioners will inevitably do it, and not have it left to a particular President of the Board of Trade to say whether he will delegate the powers or not. I suggest that is not the intention or the spirit of the Bill.
Mr. SHORTT: The reason the word "may" is put in instead of "shall" is that it is not proposed that all the powers of the Board of Trade dealing with, for example, the Electric Lighting Acts should be transferred to these Commissioners. There are some powers the Board of Trade have connected with electricity which are not powers which ought to be transferred to these Commissioners—administrative, financial, and so on, and certain other things like the appointment of arbitrators, and things of that sort, which would be kept by the Board of Trade. That is the reason why "shall" was not put in and "may" was.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: Surely in that case anything that is desired to be excluded should be excluded expressly. It must be a vice in this measure to leave it entirely permissive to the President of the Board of Trade at a particular moment to say which of his powers shall go. It is quite true we have had the advantage of hearing the Home Secretary say that all the effective 65 powers should go, except certain powers which are contemplated to be reserved. "I suggest it is not fair to us to leave so wide a discretion, and then tell us it is to be exercised reasonably. I think I shall press this to a division, with a view to getting from the Home Secretary a promise that between now and Report he will introduce some words which will exclude expressly the powers it is desirable to retain in the Board of Trade.
Mr. SHORTT: I am afraid I cannot offhand give that promise, because it is not quite such a simple matter as my hon. and gallant Friend would appear to think. I will promise to consider the matter, but I cannot possibly promise any such pledge, because it may turn out, possibly, that certain powers which it is difficult to say to-day ought to be transferred or not. I cannot, therefore, give a pledge.
Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: As my right hon. Friend is prepared to consider it, I will raise it again in Committee or on Report.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Electricity Commissioners may, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, either by themselves, or through any district electricity board established under this Act, or any authorised undertakers, conduct experiments or trials for the improvement of the methods of electric supply and incur such expenditure as may be necessary for the purpose.
Amendment made: Leave out the words "subject to the approval of the Board of Trade."—[Mr. Shortt.]
Viscount DUNCANNON: I beg to move to leave out the words "or through any district electricity board established under this Act." I move this in order to raise the general question of electricity boards under this Bill, as this is the first place where reference is made to them. I do not know whether the Government intend to start the discussion on the district boards immediately, or to take it on Clause 5. I formally move this Amendment to give an opportunity to the right hon. Gentleman to say what are the intentions of the Government.
Mr. SHORTT: So far as the Government are concerned, they intend, as far as they possibly can, to press for these district boards. It is an essential and main part of the scheme. I know from what my hon. Friends have told me that there is a considerable body in this Committee who think that some discussion with regard to Clauses 5, 6, and 7 between 66 now and next Tuesday might be very valuable. I suggest to the Committee it is clear that if we are going to adjourn for the purpose of discussing these three clauses it will be rather a mistake now to discuss the whole question which is raised by this Amendment. Unless there is some Amendment which we could take which would not subsequently exclude this discussion, I suggest that we ought to adjourn now, for I do not think the Committee desire to embark upon that discussion to-day.67
The CHAIRMAN: I do not think it will be possible to take any other amendment before the adjournment.
Mr. SHORTT: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn."
Question put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes before one o'clock, till Tuesday, 15th. July, at 11 o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE.
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Chairman)
Balfour, Mr. George
Carter, Mr. William
Chamberlain, Mr. Neville
Craig, Lieut.-Commander Norman
Graham, Mr. William
Guinness, Captain Rupert
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Frederick
Larmor, Sir Joseph
Robinson, Mr. T.
Samuel, Mr. Arthur
Short, Mr. Alfred
Shortt, Mr. (Secretary)
Stevens, Mr. Marshall
Taylor, Mr. John
Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan
Wood, Sir Kingsley