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Electric Lighting Companies (Charges)

Volume 155: debated on Monday 12 June 1922

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asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, seeing that the electric lighting companies have increased their charges since 1914 in some cases by as much as 60 per cent., partly to keep up the dividends of their shareholders, and now only propose a reduction of 5 per cent., in spite of the fall in the price of material, he will appoint an expert Committee to go into the question of the costs and staffing of the companies in the interests of the general public?

I have been asked to reply. The increases in the maximum charges authorised to be made by electricity authorities, to which my Noble Friend refers, have sometimes been made under the terms of their Provisional Orders incorporating Section 32 of the Schedule of the Electric Lighting Clauses Act, 1899, but in a majority of cases under the Statutory Undertakings (Temporary Increase of Charges) Act, 1918, and in each case after the Minister has considered a Report by the Electricity Commissioners. Under these circumstances, I do not think that the appointment of a Committee would be useful. I shall be glad to look into any particular case to which the Noble Lord calls my attention.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the view is that the Ministry must have authorised increased charges, not merely of 60 per cent., but of as much as 120 per cent. in some cases?

I cannot deal with the general question, but if the Noble Lord will draw my attention to particular figures, I will consider them.

Is it not the fact that, while the cost of living during the War period rose 176 per cent. above pre-War figures, the cost. of electricity rose only 50 per cent.?

I cannot go into the figures, but under the Temporary Increase of Charges Act, no increase can be authorised which would secure a dividend larger than three-fourths of the pre-War dividend.