68 STANDING COMMITTEE B Tuesday, 15th July, 1919

[Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS in the Chair.]

ELECTRICITY (SUPPLY) BILL
[OFFICIAL REPORT.]
DISTRICT ELECTRICITY BOARDS.

The SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt): I would ask the leave of the Committee before we commence business to make a statement having regard to the reason for which we adjourned on Thursday last. When we adjourned an Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord (Viscount Duncannon) had been called which ráised the whole question of District Electricity Boards. We were discussing the question of District Electricity Boards with certain members of the Committee. It has been impossible to discuss the matter with every member of the Committee and therefore if any hon. member was not consulted or has not taken part in the negotiations and discussions it is through no lack of courtesy, but merely that it was impossible to do so. We have, after much consideration, come to the conclusion that we shall have to make very considerable amendments in Clause 5 which as it stands merely constitutes District Electricity Boards with various powers and constituted under various conditions. We have come to the conclusion, on representations made to us, that it would be very much better if local authorities, local undertakers and local people generally could be brought into closer touch with the whole electricity organisation. It would give greater elasticity in my view and would conduce to better and more efficient working, and, I think, would be an improvement in every way. I have accepted suggestions made to me, not so much for the reason that they may bring into line certain members of the Committee, but because in my judgment they are a decided improvement to the Bill as it stands. Speaking roughly, the proposal is that the Electricity Commissioners may hold a local enquiry and if they come to the conclusion that any district should be formed for the purpose of more efficient electricity supply, which would involve, for instance, the grouping together of a number of districts and various undertakings, they may make the announcement that such a district has been formed. It will then be feasible for any existing electricity undertakings or 69 any persons concerned, local authorities, local interests of any kind, associations or bodies, Chambers of Commerce, labour, or anyone of that sort to put forward a scheme. The proposition with regard to the scheme would arise in this way. The Electricity Commissioners would first of all form an area, when they found it was necessary grouping various undertakings, and so on.

Commander DAWES: Would there be an appeal?

Mr. SHORTT: That would be without appeal. They would then consider the question after a local enquiry, as to whether any improvement in the organisation of that area was necessary. If they came to the conclusion that the area could be conducted by the existing organisation it would so continue to be conducted, but if they came to the conclusion that a change is necessary they will give notice of the fact and give notice that they will hold an enquiry into the subject. Then before the enquiry comes off, anyone interested, either an undertaker or a local authority or any association or body that is interested in the matter, can put forward a scheme which will be considered by the Electricity Commissioners. They can either accept it as it stands or can modify it or reject it. If they reject it they must either formulate a scheme of their own or they must give notice that a District Electricity Board will be constituted under the Act. So that the District Electricity Board, instead of being the main organisation, would only be resorted to in cases where no scheme could be brought forward which in the opinion of the Commissioners would be adequate. Then on the decision of the Commissioners a local enquiry would be held. Provision is made either for a General Electricity Authority, which would be the name of any body set up under the scheme, or for a District Board as the case might be, to have the necessary powers and to have necessary transfers and so on made. But the main gist of the proposal is that instead of a cut and dried District Electricity Board in every case, you may either go on as you are, if that seems the better course, or a scheme may be proposed by the local people themselves, and if that is a feasible scheme it will be adopted by the Commissioners and the necessary powers will be given to them. Of course, that means a very considerable change in the whole structure of the Bill. It may very well be that the Amendments that we shall propose are so considerable that you, Sir, would be bound to rule that really in substance it was a new Clause. To discuss the Amendments' on the rest of the Bill while this, which is really the very essence of the Bill, remains undecided, would be impossible. Therefore I would suggest, if you should be able to so rule, that we should be allowed to move these changes as Amendments to Clause 5 instead of as a new Clause. We have, unfortunately, not been able to put the Amendments in proper form upon the Order 70 Paper, but we have had printed the Clause as it would stand assuming the Committee accepted all our Amendments, or as it would have been put down had we been able to put it down as a new Clause. It seemed to us that was the most convenient way, if members of the Committee would really examine and study it and decide what Amendments, if any, were necessary, and so on. This will be handed round to all members of the Committee. I suggest that the Committee should take these Clauses and, to enable those who do not know what is in them, those whom we have not been able to consult, to give proper consideration to the suggestions, that the Committee should adjourn for further consideration. If that meets with the views of the Committee, and I hope it will, because I do not think we can possibly discuss this properly unless hon. members have had an opportunity of studying it, I would ask you, Sir, to rule that we may introduce this Clause 5 by Amendments instead of a new Clause and then I would move that the Committee adjourn to a date as soon as possible, but at any rate one which will give the Committee a real opportunity of considering and discussing what we have proposed. Perhaps it would be better that some other member of the Committee should move a date, someone who has not seen the proposals and who would, perhaps, have some views as to the length of time that is necessary. Whatever the Committee feels I should very gladly accept. In order that we may have as full knowledge as possible and really have our discussions as free and frank as it is possible to have them, in addition to circulating this morning the statement with regard to the capital expenditure of the various undertakings, we have had prepared and will also circulate a memorandum by the Board of Trade upon Clause 7. That will show the Committee exactly what our position is and may lead to better and more useful discussion when we assemble again.

The CHAIRMAN: I have considered this new proposal very carefully. Strictly speaking it is a new Clause. It really transforms Clause 5 into a new Clause, and by the Rules of Procedure a new Clause has to be taken at the end of the Bill. I quite recognise, however, that we could not usefully consider the Bill until this point is settled. Therefore, with the approval of the Committee, I propose to rule that this Clause, when it is put in proper form, with Amendments, may be moved as an Amendment to Clause 5. That will give an opportunity for a full discussion on this important point and it will give hon. Members an opportunity also of moving Amendments, if they wish to do so, to the Home Secretary's proposal.

Mr. SHORTT: I beg to move it "That the Committee do now adjourn." I do not like to suggest a date, but I name Thursday for the purpose of discussion.

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Mr. JOHNSTONE: I think this day week would be better.

Mr. GRAHAM: These proposed Amendments to Clause 5 deal with matters of very great importance to the local authorities interested in these electrical undertakings, and with a view to getting into consultation with them, I respectfully suggest that the adjournment should be for not less than one week.

Mr. SHORTT: That has been arranged.

The CHAIRMAN: Is it the pleasure of hon. Members that this Committee do adjourn till next Tuesday?

The Committee signified assent.

Mr. SHORTT: May I make a suggestion to the Members of the Committee? The Amendments that have been put down on the Paper are very numerous and cover a great many pages. If, on consideration of the suggestions put forward generally, any hon. Member feels himself able to withdraw his own Amendment, it being covered by one of the Government Amendments, I would ask him kindly to do so. Preparing for every Amendment involves an enormous amount of labour, as, of course, one must be prepared. It would, therefore, be of very great assistance if any hon. Member can abandon his Amendment, or Amendments, after reading the suggestions of the Government.

The CHAIRMAN: As Chairman of the Committee, I desire to support the suggestion. It is a very great convenience to have as few Amendments as possible—to have only those that are applicable to the Bill, and to withdraw those that are not necessary. It will be a great convenience, too, to the officials.

Mr. THOMSON: Referring to the very valuable document which has been put into our hands showing the capital expenditure of the various undertakings, I think it would be almost more valuable if we could have a return showing not only the capital expenditure, but the prices charged for power. These figures are available, I know, in regard to municipal undertakings. If the same, or similar, information could be given in regard to other undertakings, it would very considerably help us in some of the matters that come before us. It would be of additional value to such information that we have.

Mr. SHORTT: I am informed it will be impossible to get that information within the week. It will be a very big task indeed. I, therefore, have some difficulty in acceding to what the hon. Member has asked for.

Mr. WADDINGTON: I think these figures are available except for companies. But, surely, it should not take long to get the particulars of the companies?

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Mr. SHORTT: It will involve an enormous amount of work.

Mr. BALFOUR: I think I can help the Committee. I really fear, if the Committee had the figures of the companies in pre-war times they would not be of any assistance to a body of non-technical gentlemen. For instance, in many of the larger power companies they have five or six different tariffs. To give an illustration: One undertaking has such a tariff as £8 10s. per kilowat, plus ·3d., plus a coal clause; then £6 10s., plus ·44d. or ·45d. per unit, plus a coal clause. I really do think it would require men thoroughly versed and with expert knowledge of the details of the prices to follow the figures. It would, I think, shorten the proceedings by not asking for a mass of figures which I do not think would give an intelligent view to the members of the Committee.

Mr. WADDINGTON: The municipalities also have varying prices. Unfortunately, or fortunately, those with which I am connected have no such high prices as £8 per kilowat. We range more about £3 or £4, with ·3d. or ·2d. as the unit charge. The basis adopted for the local authorities could be taken for the companies. Let us have regard to how the companies are treating consumers generally in comparison with the local undertakings.

Mr. FRANCE: The Home Secretary has made an appeal to the Committee, and you, Mr. Chairman, have endorsed it. As a Member of the Committee, I should like to appeal to the Government, and ask them to make up their minds as to what they are going to do, so that we, so far as possible, those of us who arrange to come here, shall know what is going to be done. From time to time a Bill is put forward and then private negotiations take place upstairs, or somewhere else, and we do not know anything whatever about it. Then further private negotiations take place. Only the other day a Committee which had sat for six weeks finished their work. They ended their discussion of the Bill, which came up for its Report stage, and Members found that the whole thing had been altered by private negotiations. The Members of the Committee have a right to protest against these proceedings of the Government. By all means, take all the time necessary on a measure before it is introduced; consult everybody concerned in the matter; but after the Bill has been introduced, do let us have all these discussions openly, so that we may take part in them. I do appeal to the Government to let us know a little more as to what exactly they are going to do.

Sir KINGSLEY WOOD: I do hope the Home Secretary will also be able to intimate whether he wants us to sit in the afternoon on Tuesday. I think it would be a convenience to know what we have to do.

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Mr. MARRIOTT: That was settled last week.

Sir K. WOOD: I do not share the views of my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. France). I think he will find that a good deal of the time of the Committee has been saved by the course the Government has taken hitherto.

Commander DAWES: On a point of order. Has not the Motion been carried that the Committee adjourn?

The CHAIRMAN: That is quite true. It was carried. But these points are supplemental to that raised by the Home Secretary, to which I think it advisable we should listen.

Lieut.-Commander CRAIG: Will it not be possible to bring into harmony the different views that have been expressed? Will it not be possible for the Home Secretary to let us have what, I think, will be useful figures, not decimals, and not complications, but the average price per unit and the percentage return on capital of the various undertakings? These ought not to be too difficult technically, and they will give us the information we want without complications.

Mr. NEAL: The changes now proposed in Clause 5 will necessitate the Government making substantial amended proposals on the later stages of the Bill. Can the Home Secretary tell us when he hopes to be in a position to let the members of the Committee have the Government Amendments on the other Clauses in the Bill?

Mr. MacVEAGH: Can the Home Secre tary give us some information upon two points: first, whether he has prepared in these Amendments on behalf of the Government one protecting the rights of existing officials in these different bodies, as in the case of the Ways and Communications Bill? I believe no provision has yet been made. I take it that is a point in which all the Members of the Committee will be very much interested. In the second place, I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce an Amendment to protect the statutory rights of the companies? In the memorandum circulated this morning it says that when a generating station is taken over it shall be taken over at a valuation. But there are statutory rights where those concerns are entitled to a higher price than the valuation by Act of Parliament. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to accept, or to insert, an Amendment providing that this will be without prejudice to the statutory rights of any company?

Mr. SHORTT: With regard to what my hon. Friend has just said, I cannot make any statement at present. But if he reads 74 the memorandum, so far as the financial question is concerned, he will find exactly what is the Board of Trade position. With regard to any Amendment dealing with the interest of officials, I have no doubt my hon. Friend himself will put an Amendment down; then we shall be able to say whether or not we can accept it—if it is necessary—for it may not be. In regard to the Amendments which my hon. Friend asked about, I am told that they will not be very many or very serious. Such as they are, we hope to have them on the Order Paper by Thursday—I refer to the Government Amendments. In regard to the procedure of the Government, I much regret my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. France) should feel a burning sense of grievance in respect to any procedure taken. I have explained that it was quite impossible to meet everyone during the course of the week-end, some of whom may, perhaps, have been as far away as Northumberland! It is difficult to meet them, but I can assure my hon. Friend all we want to do is as expeditiously as possible to get the best possible Bill. I regret very much if what we have done has caused any inconvenience to any Member of the Committee. With respect to the request for details, we have not the staff to do the work. It will be quite impossible, I am assured, to get all the information asked for in time previous to that period in which, it is hoped, that this Bill will have successfully passed through the House of Lords. But we do hope, as soon as possible, to get the information asked for by the hon. Member dealing with the average price and the average return.

Mr. MARRIOTT: May I add one word? An appeal has been made by yourself, Mr. Chairman, and the Home Secretary, in respect to withdrawing unnecessary Amendments from the Order Paper. Speaking for myself, I am afraid I have a good many Amendments down. I shall be only too glad, for the convenience of the Committee, to withdraw any Amendments that I can, but it seems impossible to do so until we have the Government Amendments before us. As soon as we can see those Amendments—and I understand from the Home Secretary that they will be on the Order Paper on Thursday—

Mr. SHORTT: We hope so.

Mr. MARRIOTT: I shall be very glad indeed, doubtless with any other member, to withdraw any Amendment possible.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. Bridgeman): They will only be consequential on these.

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Mr. RAFFAN: I also have a number of Amendments down. I will endeavour, as far as possible to meet the appeal made by the Home Secretary and the Chairman. But if any point remains in which one feels the decision of the Committee should be taken, and an Amendment should be put down afresh, should it be put down as a new Clause, or will the Amendment standing on the Paper be taken?

The CHAIRMAN: I think it will be more convenient if the Amendment be put down as a new Clause.

Lieut.-Colonel THORNE: Can a return be obtained, or is the Home Secretary going to get a return, showing the price per unit for public and private use both for the municipalities and the private companies?

Mr. SHORTT: The only thing we can possibly give, I am told by my experts, within the time, will be the averages.

Lieut.-Colonel THORNE: Is it not essential that we should have the difference between the charge per unit for motive power and for private use?

Mr. SHORTT: I do not know if that is possible.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL: I see there has been some arrangement made. Perhaps the Home Secretary will remember that in the Committee that recently sat there were certain members who endeavoured to look after the interests of what I venture to think are important bodies, that is the dock and harbour authorities. The Home Secretary is probably perfectly aware that many of these important bodies have their own generating stations. I do not find that by the Bill they have been excluded. What I want to get at is this. I do not want to feel that Amendments are passed by those who perhaps have not been invited by my right hon. Friend to discuss these things. I want it to be perfectly open and that afterwards we shall find a similar reception to that previously accorded to those who are looking after the interests of the dock and harbour authorities.

The CHAIRMAN: I think the hon. and gallant gentleman was not in the room when the Home Secretary made his statement. If he will be good enough to read the statement of the Home Secretary in the OFFICIAL REFORT, he will find, I think, that his point has been properly met.

Committee adjourned accordingly at Half after Eleven of the clock till Tuesday, July 22nd, at 11 o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—

Roberts, Sir Samuel (Chairman)

Balfour, Mr. George

Barnes, Major

Bell, Mr. James

Bowyer, Captain

Bridgeman, Mr.

Carter, Mr. William

Chamberlain, Mr. Neville

Cope, Major

Craig, Lieut.-Commander Norman

Dawes, Commander

Entwistle, Major

Flannery, Sir Fortescue

France, Mr.

Graham, Mr. William

Gritten, Mr.

Grundy, Mr.

Guinness, Captain Rupert

Hall, Lieut-Colonel Sir Frederick

Haslam, Mr.

Johnstone, Mr.

Kiley, Mr.

Larmor, Sir Joseph

MacVeagh, Mr.

Mallalieu, Mr.

Marriott, Mr.

Moreing, Captain

Neal, Mr.

Pinkham, Colonel

Prescott, Major

Raffan, Mr.

Ratcliffe, Mr.

Robinson, Mr. T.

Roundell, Lieut.-Colonel

Royce, Mr.

Samuel, Mr. Arthur

Short, Mr. Alfred

Shortt, Mr. Secretary

Steel, Major

Swan, Mr.

Taylor, Mr. John

Thorne, Colonel William

Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan

Vickers, Mr.

Waddington, Mr.

Wood, Sir Kingsley

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