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Bill 230 Third Reading

Volume 282: debated on Thursday 2 August 1883

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Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—( Mr. John Holms.)

said, he had been in hopes that his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade would have permitted this Bill to have been postponed until to-morrow, according to the usual custom of the House, because, practically, the Bill was a Private Bill. The Speaker, however, had ruled that the Bill was a Public Bill, although it was put down for consideration at the time of Private Business. Those who were entitled to oppose the Bill would have preferred that the discussion should have been postponed, in order that the House might have been placed in possession of more information in regard to it. He thought that a great deal of haste had been exhibited in connection with the progress of this Bill. It was only on Tuesday that hon. Members were made aware that it had been reported by the Committee, and then they were only made aware of it by means of the public papers. Yesterday they were asked to take the Report into consideration, notwithstanding the fact that there was nothing whatever for the House to consider. There was no Report; not a scrap of evidence which had been taken before the Committee was in the hands of Members. They were just as wise after the Committee had reported as they were before; and they had no means to enable them to arrive at a correct conclusion in reference to the decision of the Committee. More than that, there was no Member of the Committee present to support their conclusions, and yet that stage of the Bill was forced through, and the next stage put down for to-day. Considering that the Bill abolished the right of private contract, considering that it prevented a very important suction of the community from taking advantage of the Electric Lighting Act, and obtaining from the Board of Trade a licence in order to light their district, and considering that the Bill confiscated an agreement entered into between the Strand District and the Jablochkoff Company, he thought the least they could have done would have been to give one day between the various stages of the Bill, in order that those persons who were so largely interested in it might have an opportunity for consultation. The question between the Board of Trade and the Strand District stood thus. The Strand District consented to give a licence to the Jablochkoff Company for the electric lighting of the district for seven years. It had been thought expedient to authorize the Jablochkoff Company to make a contract only for seven years on terms which were thought to be reasonable, because it was assumed that by the time those seven years had expired fresh inventions might have been brought to light, or new means discovered, which would altogether have changed the conditions of electric lighting. The Strand District said very wisely—"We do not want to make a contract for a longer term than seven years; and therefore we applied to the Board of Trade, under the powers given by the Electric Lighting Act, for the necessary authority to grant a licence." But the Board of Trade said—"We repudiate your contract altogether, and we do not intend to give you a licence, because we have already promoted a Bill giving a monopoly to the Edison and Swan Companies to light the whole of the district for 21 years. We, therefore, reject your claim altogether, and will not assent to your desire to be prudent and economical. We refuse your right altogether to enter into any commercial contract with reference to lighting your district." This was a very arbitrary proceeding on the part of the Board of Trade; and, to justify it, it ought to be fortified by strong reasons. He was not aware why it was that the officers of the Board of Trade preferred the Swan and Edison Lighting Companies; but it certainly did appear that there was something in the shape of a preference shown. No doubt the Board of Trade had its preferences as well as other people; but it was a very different thing when they proposed to force their preferences upon the ratepayers of the Strand for 21 years, and compel them to accept a contract with the Edison and Swan Companies, which they had no desire whatever to make. This was very arbitrary conduct on the part of the Board of Trade, and they ought to be in a position fully to justify it. It was said that the Jablochkoff Company were not in a position to carry out their contract; but when hon. Members were asked to confirm a monopoly upon other Companies, and to hand over the ratepayers of the Strand for 21 years, and to violate and tear up an agreement which the Strand District had already entered into with the Jablochkoff Company, he thought it was quite time for the House to inquire into the nature and character of the proceedings which had impelled the Board of Trade to this course. He had nothing in the world to say against the Edison Company, which, he believed; provided an excellent light; but he would remind the House that the Jablochkoff Company, which had made an agreement with the Strand District—which agreement the Board of Trade said they were not willing the Company should carry out—also provided a good light. What he asked was, what were the objections of the Board of Trade to the Strand authorities making an agreement of a commercial character for the lighting of the district? Major Marindin had tried to induce the Strand autho- rities to adopt the Edison Company; but they said that they preferred the Jablochkoff Company, and that they were perfectly satisfied that they were the proper authorities constituted under the Act of Parliament to deal with the question, and to treat with the Board of Trade, and they could see no reason whatever why the agreement they had entered into should be ignored by the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade thereupon said—"We have no means of knowing that the Jablochkoff Company can carry out their agreement, if it is confirmed by the Board of Trade." But with regard to the other two Companies, which it was now proposed to force upon the Strand District, were they in a position to perform their contract? Not a word upon that subject had been uttered; but, on the contrary, when the parties were before the Committee, it was agreed that the question of moans and ability to carry out agreements should be admitted on all hands. Therefore, the question of ability was not one of the questions for the consideration of the House, nor was it a question which the Committee had under consideration when they reported. Nevertheless, the Board of Trade said—"We have no means of ascertaining that the Jablochkoff Company could carry out its contracts." Now, as a matter of fact, the lighting of the Thames Embankment was undertaken by the Jablochkoff Company, and had been performed by them for sonic years. Was not that a sufficient means of enabling the Board of Trade to ascertain whether the Jablochkoff Company could carry out electric lighting or not? Surely the lighting of the Embankment was strong evidence of the ability of that Company to provide electric lighting. At all events, no other Company had given the same evidence of ability, and no other of those Companies had had any lights of the sort for the last five years. The Jablochkoff Company alone was the Company which had given hostages to the public in respect of the value of this light; and in addition to the Thames Embankment they had lighted Paris—the operas and theatres there—Spiers and Pond's establishments in London, the Gaiety Theatre, Whiteley's, Shoolbred's, and other large establishments. He believed it was the permanent officials of the Board of Trade who were opposed to the Jablochkoff Company. He was told that two of the permanent officials of the Board of Trade attended the Select Committee, and endeavoured to force their views upon the Committee. He did not know what object they had in endeavouring to force the Swan-Edison lights upon the ratepayers of the Metropolis who did not desire to have those lights. Surely, the ratepayers and the local authorities had a right to enter into private contracts, and that right ought not to be taken away by the Board of Trade. Under what circumstances could the Board of Trade say that the Strand District had no right to enter into a contract with the Jablochkoff Company to light their district? It was not desirable that he should enter at any length into this question; but he submitted that there wore questions of a very serious character involved in the action of the Board of Trade, and unless the House took the whole matter into their consideration they would sanction a proceeding which would place the Board of Trade in direct opposition to the local authorities, and, in regard to centralization, in a position that would be dangerous to the liberties of the people. He was at a loss to understand upon what ground the Board of Trade had come to the conclusion that those two parties were not to be able to enter into an agreement. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade said yesterday—and it was a very remarkable admission—that it was in consequence of private letters—not clandestine letters, but private letters from private consumers—which had induced the Board to come to the conclusion they had.

said, the right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said so, and he had a shorthand report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

said, he would toll his hon. Friend, if he would allow him, what it was that he did say. What he had said was that the Committee had before them the evidence of private con-sinners, and especially of the lessees of some of the theatres, who protested against the district being handed over to the Jablochkoff Company.

remarked, that the right hon. Gentleman had also said that those private letters had been sent to the Board of Trade, and had influenced the Board of Trade in promoting the Bills now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that these were private authorities constituted to deal with these matters, and that the Board of Trade ought not to be influenced by private letters. If the right hon. Gentleman had made inquiries he would have ascertained that the overwhelming decision of the district was in favour of the Jablochkoff Company. At present the district and the local authorities were placed in the most disadvantageous position. They were of opinion that they had made a most advantageous contract; but the Board of Trade insisted upon fastening upon them a contract which would be most disadvantageous and most expensive. The local authorities had no desire to accept the Edison-Swan lighting; but the Board of Trade said—"You shall accept it." He wanted to know under what right the Board of Trade assumed this dictation to the Strand District? If they said—"We prefer a Swan light to any other light," did they forget that the Jablochkoff Company could supply Swan lights as well as any other Company? Then, by what right did they say that the Jablochkoff Company could have its agreement torn up, and that the Strand District should not have the right of supplying its own lighting?

said, he wished to make a few remarks in answer to the speech of the hon. Member.

Do I understand the hon. Member for Dudley to move the Amendment of which he has given Notice?

Yes. Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be re-committed in reference to the Strand District Provisional Order,"—(Mr. Sheridan,)
—instead thereof. Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

said, he deeply regretted the absence of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who was Chairman of the Select Committee, and who could have spoken with much greater authority upon this subject than anyone else. He must, however, say that much of that which had just been urged by the hon. Member (Mr. Sheridan) against the Bill, and in favour of the Jablochkoff Company, was submitted to the Committee, at great length, and yet the Committee had no hesitation in coming to the decision at which it arrived. He thought his hon. Friend had made a great mistake in asserting that the Board of Trade was in any way influenced by any partiality for any particular Company. They had endeavoured to give all Companies, who had shown themselves worthy of it, a certain portion of the Metropolis for testing their powers, and they did not seek to fasten any monopoly whatever upon any particular Company. Every Company which received a Provisional Order for 21 years, understood that if it failed to supply effective lighting, or at a price as cheap and with quality as good as that supplied by another Company, then a second Company might receive a Provisional Order within the same area. The Board of Trade had, therefore, guarded itself against the establishment of any monopoly whatever. As regarded the Jablochkoff Company, he had no desire to say a word against it; but he might mention that they did not come to the Board of Trade until May last; whereas the Swan Company made their application in September 1882. Moreover, it would be in the recollection of the House that the object of having a Hybrid Committee was that all classes might be heard, whether they had a locus standi or not; and the Strand authority did give their reasons why the Bill ought not to pass, and the Board of Trade accepted their point of view as one worthy of consideration. He had only to say that, instead of encouraging a monopoly in any way, or having hurried the measure through, the Bill did not go upstairs before the Committee until the 19th of July.

said, he had referred to the haste which had been evinced in regard to the measure since the Report.

denied that there had been any undue haste, and trusted the House would assent to the proposal that the Bill be now read the third time.

regretted that he was obliged to trouble the House with some remarks in reply to the speeeh of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. As to the remark of the hon. Gentleman that the application of the Jablochkoff Company in respect of the lighting of the Strand District had not been placed in due time before the Board of Trade, he begged to give that assertion a complete and flat denial; in point of fact, as flat a denial as could possibly be given in accordance with the Rules of the House. The Strand District and the Jablochkoff Company had acted strictly in accordance with the terms of the Act of Parliament of 1882. By the 1st section of that Act, there was a right of contract given between certain Companies and local authorities; and he would read a short portion of that section, in order to show that he was quite within the truth when he made this statement. The 1st section of the Act dealt with the mode of granting power to light a particular district; and these were the words of the Act—

"The Board of Trade may from time to time license any Local Authorities defined by the Act, or any other Company or persons, to supply electricity under this Act for any public or private purpose within any area, subject to the following provisions."
The provisions were to limit what the Board of Trade was to do, and the first part was to obtain the consent of every local authority having jurisdiction without the area, or any part of the area, within which the supply was licensed to be furnished, which consent the local authority was authorized to give with certain conditions, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, which the local authority might prescribe. It was quite true that the Jablochkoff Company went first to the Board of Trade, or the Board of Trade went first to the Jablochkoff Company—he would not pledge himself as to which took precedence; but an application was made for power under the Act, because the local authorities did not intend to go for a Provisional Order. No doubt a Provisional Order had considerable advantage over a temporary licence. A Provisional Order was granted for 21 years; whereas licences granted by local authorities, and approved of by the Board of Trade, were only granted for seven years. Now, the Jablochkoff Company and the Strand District, on their part, were perfectly confident that seven years would be a sufficient time; and accordingly the Strand District applied for a licence for the Jablochkoff Company for seven years, and gave an undertaking that if the Jablochkoff Company failed to carry out their contract, that they would then go themselves before the Board of Trade and make an application in their own name. Nothing could be more strictly regular than the proceeding of the local authority. But what had the Board of Trade done? The Board -of Trade, whilst this competition was going on between two or three Companies, promoted a Provisional Order to take away the power from the local authorities for 21 years, and to place on the shoulders of the local authority what might turn out to be an incubus for so long a space of time. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken said that the Bill had not been hurried forward at all. Now, the Bill was, in the first instance, referred to a Hybrid Committee. He had no particular faith in a Hybrid Committee over any other Committee. It was appointed pro hâc vice, and, generally speaking, conducted its business in a respectable but somewhat perfunctory manner. What was it that this Committee had to do? It had to consider two Bills, equal in volume to the Journals of the House, within the space of four or five Sittings. The House yesterday passed the Report of the Committee; but there was no Report at all before the House. He ventured to say that nothing was more irregular or defective, he would not say on the part of the Committee, because they had, no doubt, pursued the usual course, but on the part of the arrangements of the House. It was not the usual course for a Bill to be reported without any Report, and for the House to decide that the Report was considered when there was no Report at all before the House, not even a skeleton, or a fiction, or a fragment. He now came to this voluminous Bill (No. 8), which contained, in fact, several Acts of Parliament, and he asked that it should be referred hack again to the Committee, in consequence of what he believed to be a great misapprehension on the part of the Board of Trade. He did not speak without authority on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was present, and he would, perhaps, give his attention for one or two moments. He was reported in The Times of that morning to have stated—
"With respect to the Strand District, proposals have been made by the Jablochkoff Company; but the Committee did not think they were seriously intended."
He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was given to jesting; but if he was not, he was certainly given to sarcasm, and such sarcasm which would scarcely be justified in any other matter of business. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—
"Accordingly, after hearing representations from private consumers, the Committee passed an Order in favour of the Swan Company, subject to certain limitations. He hoped the House would not put any further obstacles in the way of the Order."
Well, that was an entire mis-statement of the case. When the Report was before the House, together with the Evidence, and in the hands of hon. Members, they would see that the Committee fully acknowledged the value of the Jablochkoff Company and the Jablochkoff light. He pledged himself that that would be found in the shorthand report whenever it was in the hands of hon. Members. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman must have believed this statement, or he would never have made use of it. He asked, then, to have the Bill re-committed, in order that the matter might be cleared up, because it was a very serious matter indeed, inasmuch as it involved the necessity of the Strand Board of Works going to "another place," from which very frequently Bills of this kind did not return. He really thought it would be consistent with the dignity of the Board of Trade, and only fair to Parliament, that the right hon. Gentleman should agree to this reference hack to the Committee, simply with regard to this particular Provisional Order; and he ventured to say that if the question did go before the Committee again, when they had the opportunity of reconsidering the matter by the light of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, they would admit that they had been overborne by the dead weight and vis inertia of the Board of Trade in pro- moting this enormous Bill and smothering the local authority.

said, the hon. Member for Youghal Sir Joseph M'Kenna) asserted that the question had not been thoroughly thrashed out by the Hybrid Committee. He (Mr. Story-Maskelyne) could only say that it was a very strong Committee to which the question was referred; and if ever there I was a question which had been thoroughly thrashed out, carefully studied, and a decision come to after very full consideration, it was in the case of this Provisional Order. The Committee sat steadily nearly every day, and there was never a single Member of the Committee absent; and when he said that this Order was passed by the Committee unanimously, and was the first Order upon which they came to any decision, he thought the House would see that the question was not one upon which it was worth while to detain the House at that hour of the day. He would only say one thing with regard to the statement that had been made in reference to the Board of Trade. The line of argument taken up by hon. Members who opposed this Order was that the Board of Trade had not properly considered the representations of the Strand District as the local authority in asking for a particular light in that district. Now, he asserted that that was not the case. The Board of Trade heard both sides most carefully. They had provisionally consented to the Order at the time this request was made to them; but they went into the whole of the matter, and the Board of Trade put into the Provisional Order proposed to be granted to the Swan Company a special clause to provide that, if within six months after date of the commencement of the Order a licence was granted by the Board of Trade authorizing the Board of Works of the Strand District, or the Jablochkoff Company, to supply lighting by electricity within any part of the area in which the Swan Company were authorized to supply lighting by electricity, the Board of Trade should have power to revoke the Order as to the whole of the area included in Schedules A and B. With that clause in their Provisional Order, the Edison and Swan Companies were left to lay their case before the Committee; and the case, which, no doubt, was a complicated one, was tho- roughly thrashed out. The matter was not by any means so simple as hon. Gentlemen imagined. In the first place, the Jablochkoff asked for a large area—a much larger area than, he ventured to say, they intended to cover. They asked for an area bounded by limits which curiously intersected the rights of other districts in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden and the Savoy. The Committee had to go into the whole of the matter; and, as he had already stated, if ever there was a question not partially but thoroughly examined and considered, it was this. The very first Resolution the Committee came to was that Clause 67 should be struck out of the Order; and, subsequently, the area was divided in what was considered to be an equitable manner, and in a manner best suited for the public interests between the Edison and Swan Companies. Indeed, so thoroughly had the question been thrashed out that he could assure the House if they sat there discussing it for two hours they would find it impossible to get more seed out of it, although they might discover a little more chaff. If they were called upon to go to a Division he hoped the House would support the Committee, who had conscientiously endeavoured to do their duty. Question put, and agreed to. Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read the third time, and passed.