SIR SAMUEL ROBERTS in the Chair.
11.—(1) A district electricity board shall have power to supply electricity within their district subject to the following limitations, that is to say, the board shall not supply electricity—
Provided that where the authorised distributors or power company refuse or withhold their consent, the district electricity board may appeal to the Electricity Commissioners as to whether the consent is unreasonably refused or withheld, and the Board of Trade on the recommendation of the Electricity Commissioners may dispense with such consent if in their opinion it is unreasonably refused or withheld, and the consent shall be deemed to be unreasonably refused or withheld if the authorised distributors or power company are not willing and in a position to give the requisite supply upon reasonable terms and within a reasonable time, and in considering what are reasonable terms and what is a reasonable time the Board of Trade shall amongst other things have regard to the terms upon which and the time within which the district electricity board are willing and able to give the supply.
(2) This Act shall in relation to every district electricity board be deemed to be a special Act for the purposes of the Electric Lighting Acts, and every district electricity board shall be deemed to be undertakers within the meaning of those Acts, and for 445 the purposes of this section there shall be incorporated with this Act the provisions of the Schedule to the Electric Lighting Clauses Act, 1899, subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be prescribed by order of the Board of Trade:
Provided that sections two and three of the Electric Lighting Act, 1888 (which relate to the purchase of undertakings by local authorities), shall not apply to the undertakings of district electricity boards.
(3) Subject to the limitations hereinbefore contained on the powers of a district electricity board to supply electricity, the Electricity Commissioners may by order, after such inquiry as they think fit, impose on any district electricity board an obligation to supply electricity in such circumstances, within such areas, and on such terms and conditions as to price and otherwise as may be specified in the order.
Captain BOWYER: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "board" ["district electricity board are willing"], to insert the words "and the authorised undertakers. I have given notice of a further Amendment, at the end of Sub-section (1), to add the words "and the terms and prices upon which the authorised undertakers are themselves supplied"; and I purpose to deal with the two together. This part of the Clause is the provision which deals with cases where the district electricity board proposes to supply electricity and where the authorised undertakers have withheld their consent. It is also the case where the question of reasonableness or unreasonableness or consent being upheld is involved. By the words of the Bill as it now stands, although there are two parties to the question as to whether the withholding of the consent is reasonable or unreasonable, the direction given says that in considering what are reasonable terms and what is reasonable time the Board of Trade shall, amongst other things, have regard to the terms upon which and the time within which the district electricity board are willing and able to give a supply. The Clause makes no mention of the authorised undertakers nor as to the question of terms or price upon which the authorised undertakers themselves are supplied or are prepared to supply electricity. I do most urgently submit to the Government, where the question of reasonableness is involved, that the words I propose might well be put in the Bill. They can do no possible harm, so far as I can see. There is no direction to the Board of Trade upon which the authorised undertakers may be heard in evidence and may state their case as to whether the 446 withholding of the consent was reasonable or not.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Bridgeman): The Government have no objection to this Amendment in principle, and perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend would move the first proposal in this form: "and the authorised distributors or power company"; and the second Amendment as follows: "and the terms upon which the authorised distributors or power company are themselves supplied by the district electricity board".
Mr. G. BALFOUR: A point which I raised yesterday was rather submerged with the closing up of the proceedings. I would suggest a slight Amendment to the second Amendment which will meet my point by the addition of the words: "including the period of time for which such terms are to be binding".
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: As far as the principle is concerned, we are ready to accept it. I am not sure whether the words will require drafting alteration at a later stage, but, subject to that, I am prepared to accept.
Mr. BALFOUR: If the words are accepted I am prepared to make any suitable modification necessary.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I accept what they mean or seem to me to mean.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), after the word "board" ["district electricity board"] insert the words "and the authorised distributors or power company".—[Captain Bowyer.]
Captain BOWYER: I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words "and the terms upon which the authorised distributors or power company are themselves supplied by the district electricity board, including the period of time for which such terms are to be binding."
Mr. WADDINGTON: The terms will surely include the period of time for which such terms are to be binding, and there does not seem to be any necessity for that portion of the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.447
Commander DAWES: I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "may be prescribed by Order of the Board of Trade," and to insert instead thereof the words ''the Electricity Commissioners may by special Order prescribe". This is essentially a London Amendment, and provides that instead of an Order of the Board of Trade it should be by special Order of the Commissioners. The Electric Lighting Clauses Act of 1899 does not apply to London, and if it is carried in this way the London County Council would have no opportunity of being heard on such matters as overhead wires and alteration of pipes in the streets, as they now have under their London Provisional Orders. The procedure for London is quite different from that for the rest of the country, and the object of this Amendment is to give the London County Council the opportunity of being heard on such matters as those I have mentioned.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I think I can meet the hon. Gentleman, if he will meet me, and that is by altering the Sub-section to read "as may be prescribed by the Order constituting the district electricity board".
Commander DAWES: I shall be glad to accept that and to withdraw my own words.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Further Amendment made: In Sub-section (2), leave out the words "order of the Board of Trade" and insert instead thereof the words "the order constituting the district electricity board".—[Commander Dawes.]
Commander DAWES: I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "by" ["Commissioners may by order"], to insert the word" special." This Amendment speaks for itself. It seems only reasonable, and I hope the representative of the Government will accept it.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I do not think these words are, in the least, necessary. An Order can only be made by the Commissioners after an enquiry, and it is obvious that the county council and the local authority would be the people to make representations at the enquiry, and are therefore quite certain to be heard. But under Clause 5 as amended the county councils are actually represented on the joint electricity authorities themselves, and clearly therefore they can make their voices heard. It is proposed to bring the district electricity boards into line with 448 that and to give the county councils representation on them as well as on the joint electricity authorities. That being so, I think the Amendment is unnecessary.
Commander DAWES: If that be quite clear, and if the councils and other people have the right to be heard, that satisfies me.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Captain BOWYER: I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "areas," to insert the words "not being the area of supply of an authorised distributor." As far as I have been able to understand, this Sub-section (3) in its relation to Subsection (1) of the same Clause, they are absolutely contradictory. Sub-section (1) gives powers to the district electricity board to supply electricity and says, "You shall not supply electricity in any area which forms part of the area of an authorised distributor without first getting consent, except I in the cases which follow." Sub-section (3), ! "subject to the limitations hereinbefore contained," says that the Commissioners may by Order, after such enquiry as they think fit, impose on any district electricity board an obligation to supply electricity. Therefore, to my mind, the following extraordinary situation arises: supposing the district electricity board has agreed with a distributor not to supply electricity within its area, as far as I can understand the Sub-section, the Commissioners may swoop down, hold an enquiry, and impose on the district board the obligation to supply electricity within that area. My Amendment would preclude the possibility of the exercise of these obligatory powers by the Commissioners in the area of supply of the authorised undertakers.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I do not think this can be accepted. It seems to me that the interests of the authority are perfectly well safeguarded by the words at the beginning of the Sub-section, "Subject to the limitations hereinbefore contained." I think the authorities should be satisfied with that.
Captain BOWYER: Could the hon. Gentleman tell me in what circumstances the Commissioners would impose obligatory powers if it is only subject to the limitations hereinbefore contained?
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I am informed that neither a power company nor the district board can enforce a thing without the Com- 449 missioners being called in to see that their Orders are carried out, and therefore there must be some power, even if an agreement has been arrived at, to see that it is carried out and to see that the community is properly served by these authorities.
Mr. THOMSON: Is not the Amendment moved under a misapprehension? Surely in a district board area there are sections which are not covered at all by an authorised distributor, and the power of the distributors already existing is covered by the words "Subject to the limitations hereinbefore contained"; and the mandatory power given in the Sub-section refers to that area in a district board which is not touched by the existing authorised distributors. Therefore, I cannot see that there is anything contradictory between the two Sub-sections of the Clause.
Captain BOWYER: May I suggest to the Government that if the hon. Member who has just spoken is correct, it will be all to the advantage of everybody if these words are included, because they can do no harm and they will make it quite clear to the Commissioners and others who have to carry out the terms of the Bill that the two Subsections are not contradictory but can be read the one with the other.
Captain BOWYER: I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add a new Subsection: "(4) Nothing in this section shall authorise the district electricity board to supply or to offer to supply electricity to any company, body, or person which, at the date of the passing of this Act, is being supplied by any authorised distributors under any contract or agreement in that behalf so long as such authorised distributors shall be willing and in a position to give the supply provided for by such contract or agreement." In a sentence, the purpose of this Amendment is to prevent any canvassing of customers by the district electricity board where the supply of electricity is under contract. Many of these contracts are for long continuing periods, and the authorised distributors in most cases have framed their whole policy of construction and distribution on these long term contracts, and I would like to point out to the Government that long term contracts necessarily involve special prices, the cheapness of which is entirely dependent on the contract being for a long term. This Amendment would safe- 450 guard that, and I hope the Government will see that there is no possible objection to the insertion of these words.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I think my hon. and gallant Friend has forgotten the Amendment that we put in, which was moved by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) earlier in the proceedings, in which the question of the period of contract was distinctly safeguarded, and therefore his main argument is met. Apart from that, however, I think it is clear that the limitations imposed by Sub-section (1) of this Clause give the company every opportunity of sustaining any reasonable objection they may have. They have an appeal to the Commissioners as to whether the consent is unreasonably withheld or refused, and it is clear that if a case arose such as that which the hon. Gentleman mentioned the reasonableness of it would be patent to the Electricity Commissioners as much as it is to him.
Mr. BALFOUR: I am rather afraid the hon. Gentleman representing the Government has not quite got the sense of my previous Amendment and the small degree, if any, in which it has any bearing upon this Amendment. My Amendment only dealt with the question of an application by the district board to supply electricity. Evidence would then be taken as to the possibility of such a supply being given by one of the undertakers, and they would then submit the terms, and the time, and the various matters affecting the supply, for a decision. That dealt with a contract yet to be made. This is, as I understand the Amendment, to protect the interests of the people who will have received a supply.
Captain BOWYER: Under a contract.
Mr. BALFOUR: That is the distinction as I understand it.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: Even so, there may be some slight distinction; but it is perfectly clear that would be a reasonable ground for objection if it could be sustained. Therefore it is already safeguarded in the earlier part of this Clause.
Mr. BALFOUR: With very deep respect, I think the position is different. We, in this Amendment, are dealing with the supply which has already been given, and in the previous Amendment with the supply which 451 was yet to be given. I think that is the distinction.
Mr. THOMSON: I agree there is a considerable difference; that is the reason why I hope the Government will not accede to this Amendment. I think the companies, the authorised distributors, are safeguarded to a very large extent so far as any reasonable claims exist. But surely, if this Amendment were passed, it would mean—take an extreme case, and the test is by extreme cases—that if you had an authorised body at present distributing who happened to have antiquated plant, and had a contract which was still running for a period of years at the comparatively high price, the district board would not be able to supply such a customer at the lower price, whether development takes place in electricity. We have been told on both sides of this Committee that the purpose of this Bill is to supply cheap electricity, which is, in effect, a key industry for the nation. I submit that passing this would stereotype the antiquated plant and tie the hands of the district board in a way which I am quite certain is contrary to the spirit of this Bill.
Captain BOWYER: I should like to point out to the Committee two things—and I shall be quite ready to put in any words which would safeguard the question as to reasonableness of price—I would point out to the hon. Gentleman who represents the Government that under Sub-section (I) of this Clause the consent of distributors is not required to contracts in the case of lighting authorities, or in the case of railway, tramway, canal or inland navigation companies. Where contracts are existing in those cases there is no sanctity of contract left at all. I am waiting to hear from the hon. Gentleman some real reason why these words are inequitable or are unnecessary. The reason he gave me was: "You need not bother about the contract, because the question as to whether there is or is not a contract is going to be considered when the investigation is made." If the contract applies to lighting authorities and the others I have mentioned, there will be no question of an investigation, because the withdrawal of consent does not come in. It is for the purpose of upholding the sanctity of contract that I do most seriously commend this Amendment.
Mr. NEAL: I find myself in considerable agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend, but I think this Amendment is altogether 452 too wide. The Amendment provides that where an authorised distributor has got a contract, however small, with a consumer, and however largely that consumer's demand for electricity may increase, the district electricity board may not come into play to provide electricity in excess of that provided by the company. I think my hon. gallant Friend will see that that will involve this: that the person having the contract with an existing distributor would be barred off from supplying himself with additional current from the board. In other words, the mere fact that he has an existing contract mates him—if I may borrow a phrase from another branch—"a tied house," who has no right to go beyond that. I do not think that is what my hon. gallant Friend means.
Captain BOWYER: No!
Mr. NEAL: I have no doubt my hon. and gallant Friend will be quite content to limit his Amendment, if it threatened the supply, in competition with existing contracts. The question raised is really one of considerable interest and importance from the public point of view. On the one hand, it might quite properly be said on behalf of the existing distributor: "I gave you that contract and fixed that price, having regard to the period over which I was going to supply you; I could not have incurred the capital cost involved if I had been told that I should lose that contract in a short period. That, is so elemental as to be quite sound. It is so clear that I cannot imagine that would ever be disturbed under the proceedings to inquire as to whether or not consent was unreasonably withheld. In that sense I find myself in entire agreement with the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade. That is the answer. It is not to be assumed that the tribunal which is to deal with this matter will recklessly work injustice if they know that there is an existing right and an existing contract which has been purchased at considerable cost by the distributor. I really do not think it is necessary to press this Amendment, certainly in its present form.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: I should like also to point out that the Amendment is, in its present form, asking for powers which are not given to any power companies under any existing Act. Therefore, it is quite impossible to accept it in its present form. I do not know that I will be able to persuade my hon. and gallant Friend, but I still think that their position is perfectly secure.453
Lieut.-Col. Sir F. HALL: I should like to back up the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend. It is all very well to assume that because one man has a contract at a certain price and because the supply is going to be taken up by another body that the contract should automatically be cancelled. After all we must remember that we want to conserve the interest of the big consumers. It is no use generating electricity if it is not utilised. Therefore, in the past special terms have been granted to large consumers for the purpose of getting them interested in the large concerns, and so take the current. In this connection I think we may appreciate the arguments put forward yesterday as to big consumers generating, by private plant, their own supply of electricity. To this exception was taken. But what is going to happen? You go to these big consumers, and they say: "All right, we cannot get the benefit of the low price which we obtained from the companies heretofore, and we are therefore going to set up our plant." I do not want to see that if it is possible to avoid it. I want as much current as possible to be taken from the authorities, so as to obviate any chance of increasing the number of generating stations being set up. So far as I am concerned, I am going to support my hon. and gallant Friend, and if he divides—as I hope he will—I shall certainly support him.
Mr. BALFOUR: I should just like an explanation from my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Bridgeman) as to how this confers any power which is not conferred by any other Power Act. There may be some point obscure to me which he could clear up. I confess I am not aware of any power which could be conferred if this Amendment were carried which is not already conferred. It seems to me only to protect the right to give a supply which they are already giving.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: No! As I read it, I think it is giving them a monopoly. The only way in which I can see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment has any grievance is that he is under the impression that in Sub-section (1) (a) the consent of the distributing authorities might not be required for supplying the railways, tramways, canals, and so on. What he wants to safeguard is their position. In regard to that, if that is the case, of course the object could be achieved, if necessary, by some much smaller Amendment than this. This one goes far too wide.454
Mr. BALFOUR: Does it go any further than simply to protect the existing undertaker from the district board? To put it in very rough and tumble language, to prevent the district board "butting in" and interfering with the supply which is already being given under a contract? I have no desire at all to press the point if the view I express is not correct; but it seems to me that that is the sole meaning of it. If not I shall be very glad.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: So long as the authorised undertakers shall be in a position and willing to supply it.
Mr. MARRIOTT: Under such agreement or agreements!
Mr. HOPKINSON: If it is going to be the case that the consumer's interests are likely to be badly damaged and he is going to be put into a position where he is not allowed free trade in purchasing a supply of electricity, that is really a danger. I do hope, if that be the case, the Committee will back up the Government if the matter goes to the Division.
Mr. BALFOUR: In answer to that it comes to this: The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has, say, a 5 years' contract with a power company, and that power company has made a contract with him, keeping in view all their obligations, financial and otherwise. They may have spent many thousands of pounds running a special cable from a long transmission line to his works, and fixed the price of supplying. The district board obtains some right in that area, and the district board, having its transmission lines put there regardless of the cost —the public supplies the funds—and having a line passing close to his works, they come and offer to make a contract. He naturally says: "Good business." Therefore he wants us to assist him to break down the contract which he is in honour bound to fulfil That is the position. He would be in honour bound to fulfil his five years' contract. These people have taken the risk when there was nobody else in existence to give a supply. He considered it commercially, and came to the conclusion that he was making a good, sound, business bargain. The State has put down a transmission line with no obligation on any individual except the State at large to bear the responsibility, and if a contract is offered at half the rate are you to say I am breaking my contract? [Hon. Members: "No."]455
Mr. HOPKINSON: I think the Committee has been a little misled on this point. There is nothing in the Bill to give me power to break my contract, but I get the moral support of obtaining supplies of electricity at half the price, so that if there is any renewal of the contract I get it at half price. But there is nothing in this Bill which gives me power to break my contract.
Mr. MARRIOTT: In view of what has fallen from the hon. Member (Mr. Hopkinson), may I make a suggestion? Possibly the case would be met if some words were inserted with regard to price. If that is the only point at issue between the hon. Member and the mover of the Amendment, then I think the difficulty might be met by a few words inserted at the end with regard to the question of price. If that suggestion would meet the view, I should be happy to move such words.
The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt): Really the difficulty about this proposal is this: a power company or authorised undertaker have a contract, say, with a big works or big engineering firm. So long as they perform that contract, they can prohibit the board from coming in with any additional supply. They can absolutely veto the board doing anything for them of any sort or description. It is not a question of enabling a big engineering firm to break a contract entered into for five or seven years, but during that time, if the power company or distributors fulfil their part of the contract, they can absolutely veto that company getting anything from the board. That is an absolutely impossible position. [Hon. Members: "No."]
Mr. NEAL: May I suggest a form of words which might possibly meet this, by leaving out my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment, and inserting these words: "Provided also that nothing in this section shall entitle a district electricity board to supply to any company, body, or person a supply of electricity which such company, body, or person is entitled to receive under some existing contract with an authorised distributor."
Captain BOWYER: I would like to ask if the Government could help me to find words, or if I might, at a later stage of the Bill, propose better words, so that a contract might be safeguarded so long as the price was not higher than that at which a district electricity board would supply.456
Mr. SHORTT: I do not like to pledge myself to anything at all at the moment, I have not considered the point. Naturally, any Amendment my hon. and gallant Friend puts down will receive the most careful consideration, but I should not like to pledge myself at this moment. To begin with, I do not think there is the slightest necessity for any words to safeguard existing contracts, which are not touched in the Bill. I do not think, if an engineering company broke its contract with an authorised undertaker, that they would find anything in this Bill which would be much answer in the law courts. Naturally, any Amendment my hon. and gallant Friend puts down will be most carefully considered, but I should not like to give anything which would be in any way a pledge.
Mr. BALFOUR: If the right hon. Gentleman says that all the Clauses of this Bill taken together amply protect contracts, I can understand that provision, and it would be absurd to put in this Amendment; but the words of this Amendment only express clearly that, so long as a contract exists between the parties, the district board shall not be in a position to give a supply provided for by such contract.
Mr. BRIDGEMAN: But that prevents them getting anything from the board.
Mr. SHORTT: Yes, this goes very much further than that.
Mr. BALFOUR: If the right hon. Gentleman says there will be no interference with contracts in other Clauses of the Bill, then obviously this Amendment is unnecessary, and with that assurance—
Mr. SHORTT: I have given no assurances.
Mr. BALFOUR: The right hon. Gentleman ought to know the provisions of this Bill better than I do.
Mr. SHORTT: Yes, but I am not going to give any legal assurances.
Captain BOWYER: It is clear from the discussion that the words want revision, and therefore I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, reserving to myself the right to move an Amendment at a later stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.457
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Mr. NEAL: I beg to move "That the consideration of Clauses 12 (Transfer of undertakings to boards) and 13 (Special pro visions as to power companies) be postponed." May I give very shortly the reason which induces me to take this course? I would endeavour to avoid dealing controversially with the matter any further than is necessary to state shortly the issue that might probably be joined upon these two Clauses. Clause 12 provides, in its first part, for local authorities who are authorised distributors, with certain consent, agreeing with the electricity board of the district for the transfer to the board of the whole or any part of their undertaking on certain terms which are named in the Clause. That is to say, the local authority may hand over to the district electricity board its distribution, as they have already possessed themselves of the generation and main transmission. The latter part of the Clause deals with an extremely important matter, namely, the rights which are vested by statute in the London County Council for the Metropolis, and in local authorities for other districts, for purchasing at certain fixed dates the whole of the undertaking of an undertaker, they having already had taken away from them, ex hypothesi, their generating stations. When we were discussing the terms upon which the generating stations of authorised distributors and power companies should be taken over, some of us argued—and I still think quite soundly—that there was no injustice-worked to the companies by taking them over at cost price, less depreciation. It is pointed out, on behalf of these companies, that that might be true if they had a secure tenure of their undertaking, but that as some of them might be bought up quite quickly they would have no opportunity of the advantages which are secured to them by Section 2 of the 1888 Act, and they would, therefore, lose, not only the present inflated value of their generating stations, but they would lose their distribution, and they would have no goodwill secured to them, because goodwill is excluded by the 1888 Act. They might find themselves face to face with very serious loss, and not be able to redeem their obligations to their shareholders which they had secured to them by statute. Clause 12 also provides that what is at present an option in the county council or 458 the local authority of purchasing the undertakings at certain fixed dates, shall become an obligation on the district electricity board to purchase at the first available date, so that those who speak for the companies in which capital is invested are entitled to say: "We lose under this Clause the possibility that we might have been allowed to carry on our business, because it now becomes the general rule that we are compulsorily bought up at the first date, unless the district electricity board applies to the Commissioners and gets consent to postpone that right." I have endeavoured to avoid expressing a view about the matters I have named. I have endeavoured to do nothing more than state the points that are raised. These matters are obviously questions of very great importance. On the one hand, it is essential that the public should be protected against excessive prices for electric current. On the other hand, it would be contrary to good faith, and to the desire of every hon. Member of this Committee, that we should do that which is unjust to persons who have invested their money in undertakings which, after all, were established under the sanction of Parliament to give the supply which local authorities were not giving for public use. Now a series of Amendments has been put on the Paper, some of them as recently as yesterday, and it is very essential that those Amendments should receive the most careful consideration, in the hope that a just solution may be arrived at. I do not think we are able so quickly to say exactly what that solution should be. So much for Clause 12. Clause 13 is really complementary to Clause 12 to some extent. It gives the Electricity Commissioners the power to hand over to the district electricity board the right to supply any undeveloped territory of statutory undertakers, and also gives to the Electricity Commissioners the right, if they think Jit, but imposes no obligation on them to do so, to give some benefits in exchange for the right which they take away. I hope I have said enough to justify what I conceive is a somewhat unusual motion. It would be wise that there should be some time in which the Government could most carefully consider the position, and for all the persons who are interested in these matters to make their case known. The desire which moves me very largely to take the step I am taking now, is that when this Bill leaves the Committee, it may leave it upon this matter not as a controversial 459 measure, but as one on which substantial agreement is arrived at, and which does justice to all the parties concerned.
The CHAIRMAN: In any discussion which takes place on this Motion I would ask Members to kindly confine their remarks to the reasons why this Clause should be postponed. It would not be proper to go into the merits beyond what the hon. Member (Mr. Neal) stated.
Mr. MARRIOTT: As several of the Amendments to these two Clauses stand in my name, I should like to say a word strictly on the question of postponement of the Clauses without any reference to the merits of the detailed Amendments. Simply on that point I would say, speaking for myself, I am perfectly prepared to proceed with the arguments on the Amendments, but, as a matter of fact, several of those Amendments were only placed on the Paper last night; but I quite recognise the extreme reasonableness of the plea which has been put forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. Neal). I think there would probably be substantial advantage to the discussion as a whole if we were to postpone those two Clauses which, as the hon. Member pointed out, really hang together in several respects. I want to make clear it is not at all for my own convenience I take that view, as I am quite prepared to proceed. But if in the opinion of the Home Secretary it would expedite our proceedings as a whole, I should desire to support the proposal that was put forward in a very weighty and, if I may be allowed to say so, reasonable speech and with characteristic lucidity by the hon. Member who moved. I do not believe any Member of the Committee can doubt what is the contention at the back of the mind of my hon. Friend. It is to find a reasonable compromise in regard to those two Clauses. That being so, I venture very strongly to support the proposal he has made.
Sir F. HALL: I wish to support the proposal to adjourn these Clauses until the next time we meet.
The CHAIRMAN: No, that is not so. All postponed Clauses have to stand over until all other Clauses of the Bill have been taken.
Sir F. HALL: That is just my point. They would have to be taken after all the other Clauses had been gone into.
The CHAIRMAN: That is so.460
Sir F. HALL: I quite agree to that, but I think it would be inadvisable to proceed with other Clauses which hang materially on Clauses 12 and 13. Under those circumstances I venture to suggest it would be a great deal better that the debate should be adjourned until Monday, in order that we may take Clauses 12 and 13 in their proper order. I feel that it would be a great disadvantage to the Bill if we had to consider the other Clauses without having gone into Clauses 12 and 13. Perhaps my hon. Friend will say whether it is agreeable to him, provided it is agreeable to you, Sir, to adjourn, and in that case I would move to report progress.
Viscount DUNCANNON: I desire to support the motion that the consideration of these two Clauses be postponed on the clear ground of the saving of time. My hon. Friend (Mr. Neal) has put the points at issue, if I may say so, with such clearness that there is no necessity to refer to them any more than to say that there are many Amendments down to this Clause, several of them in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Marriott), and some in my name. Those Amendments deal with one and more of the difficult problems in a different manner. Therefore it would merely be a saving of time if some discussion could take place which would enable a general agreement to he arrived at so that the discussion could take place on one Amendment rather than on a number of suggested alternatives.
Mr. SHORTT: In a matter of this kind I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, I quite appreciate that there were a large number of new Amendments put down last night. I do not pretend that I have had time to go into them and to consider them as carefully as they deserve to be considered, but, at the same time, one has had time to look at them. I quite see and believe if those two Clauses are adjourned that, so far as those two Clauses are concerned, time would be saved. I think that is highly probable, though one cannot do more than express an opinion with regard to a matter of that kind, but it is a very serious thing if we are to lose an hour and a quarter of our time by adjourning now. We agreed yesterday to sit until a quarter past one. Therefore, I do hope, if these two Clauses are postponed, we may get on with Clauses 14 and 15. I do not think they can be very largely affected by the other two Clauses. While I would wish to support what I think is a wise and sound suggestion on the part 461 of my hon. Friend (Mr. Neal), I do hope the Committee will not on that account adjourn now, but will get the advantage, at least, of the hour and a quarter.
Mr. THOMSON: I do not rise to oppose in any way the suggestion made. Reference has been made to certain negotiations and a compromise which might be made. I take it the full Committee is charged with this Bill, and I should like to know who are going to make the negotiations and who is going to arrange the compromise. Reference has also been made to certain Amendments put down, and apparently certain Members, quite rightly, have been conferring together on the points concerned, but what is the position of those of us who have put down other Amendments and who are not in the know in regard to this matter? I take it all of us should have opportunity, that is the full Committee, although it may be in an informal manner, of arriving at this most desirable arrangement. I suggest that when the negotiations which have been hinted at, to arrange a compromise in order to save time, take place that all the Members of the Committee who desire should have the opportunity to exercise their rights as Members of the Committee, although it may be in an informal manner, in arriving at what is a most desirable solution.
Mr. SHORTT: May I explain what the Government position is in regard to negotiations at all times. An Amendment is put down on the Paper and the Government are expected to inform the Committee whether they oppose it or support it. In order to make up their minds whether they are going to ask the Committee to accept or reject the Amendment, they must go into that Amendment and consider it from a number of points of view. Clearly, it helps the Government to get the proposer of the Amendment to say what is in his own mind as to what the mischief is that he aims at. I mean the mischief which he wishes to remove. That is what we do when we aim at a thing, and that is what I understand a gun is for. The object of these negotiations is not to bind anybody, but to enable the Government to make up its mind whether they should ask the Committee to accept or reject it. Those negotiations are no more than a mere consideration by the Government as To what they should ask the Committee to do. They bind nobody in any sort of way whatever.
Mr. HOPKINSON: Is not the logical conclusion of this discussion that we should 462 take these Clauses in Committee at once? We have bad the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) informing us that he does not like this sort of hole and corner business [Hon. Members: "No, no!"], and that it ought to be done in Committee. In other words, put the Clauses into Committee again.
Mr. BALFOUR: There is a difficulty which occurs to me. The hon. Member who moved referred to the difficulty of dealing with Amendments which' only appeared on the Paper last night. What about the difficulty of dealing with subsequent Clauses where, in some cases, Amendments might have been entered in the ordinary course to-night. Hon. Members naturally replied on the assumption as to the average pace of the proceedings. I might cite the case of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) who left with me certain Amendments to put down in his name, but he did not expect the subject to be reached to-day. He was very anxious to be here, and this change would put him out. I cannot help feeling if we have not full knowledge of what these Clauses will contain that must be hanging over us uncomfortably in all the subsequent Clauses. I suggest we should adjourn the debate, and in order that the right hon. Gentleman may not feel that there is any attempt to take advantage by delaying the Bill, I for one, and I feel sure all other Members, would gladly give a full extra hour and a half in addition to the ordinary procedure in order to make up the time. I am willing to put myself to any inconvenience to make up the time in place of the hour and a quarter lost to-day. We should be able to take these Clauses on Tuesday, which would give ample time. What are we going to do if we come to some contentious Clauses? Are we to adjourn 463 again for a week? If they cannot settle between now and Tuesday, it means we shall never get through the Bill. I suggest with a view to assisting that we adjourn now, and undertake to put ourselves to any inconvenience to make up the time next week or the week after.
Major STEEL: I support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall). I find this Bill quite confusing enough as it is without missing out Clauses 12 and 13 and going on, as the Home Secretary suggests, with Clauses 14 and 15, and then having to go back to 12 and 13. I think that sort of thing only adds to the difficulties of members of the Committee such as myself, who find it very difficult to follow the Bill and who do not pretend to be experts.
Mr. NEAL: I am quite prepared to withdraw the motion if there is a general understanding that the debate should be adjourned till Tuesday and that the members of the Committee will do what they can to give up some time to make up for lost time.
The CHAIRMAN: If you will allow me to express an opinion, though perhaps I have no right to do so, that is the proper course to adopt. I think it would cause inconvenience if those two Clauses 12 and 13 were postponed.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn
Mr. NEAL: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn."
Mr. SHORTT: It is clearly understood that the Committee will endeavour to make up the lost time.
Question put, and agreed to.
Committee accordingly adjourned at Fifteen minutes after Twelve o'clock till Tuesday, November 4th, at 11 a.m.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Chairman)
Balfour, Mr. George
Barton, Sir William
Flannery, Sir James Fortescue
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Frederick
Hopkinson, Mr. Austin
Samuel, Mr. Arthur M.
Shortt, Mr. Secretary
Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan
Wood, Sir Kingsley