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First Schedule—(Constitution And Proceedings Of The North Of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 6 May 1943

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I beg to move, in page 16, line 6, to leave out "the deputy-chairman."

I hope the Government will feel able to accept this Amendment on account of the recommendation contained in Lord Cooper's report. Without being disrespectful to whoever may be appointed chairman of the new Hydro-Electric Board, I think that the success of any schemes inaugurated by the Board and approved by this House must depend, in the main, upon the deputy-chairman and his personality and capacity. He will really be the executive officer of the Board and it is very important that the other members should have complete reliance on the executive officer. If I may take an analogy from another walk of life to which I am more accustomed I may compare the position of the new deputy-chairman of the Board to that of an executive officer of a newly commissioned ship. When a ship is newly commissioned it is not so much the captain who is important—although the ultimate responsibility rests with him—as his first commander or first lieutenant, who has to look after the training and work of the crew and get things in working order generally. When ships are newly com- missioned it is customary for the Admiralty to let the captain have some considerable say in the appointment of his executive officer. I, therefore, ask that the Government should allow the Board to have some say in the selection of their deputy-chairman.

There is undoubtedly some force in the argument put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend, but we have to remember that there is a large body of opinion which desires the Secretary of State to have the largest amount of responsibility to this House for the actions of this Board, compatible with the reasonable freedom of the Board to carry on their day-to-day activities, The Secretary of State has, in fact, a larger responsibility to this House and one which can be more easily brought home to him if he has in his hands the appointment of the key men of the whole structure. I quite agree that in the circumstances here the deputy-chairman is the key man. If you allow somebody other than the Secretary of State to appoint the key man then the Secretary of State cannot fairly be held responsible for what happens, in the initial stages, at least, of the life of this Board. So, although we recognise the force of the argument in favour of the Amendment, we think that, on balance, it is better to leave the Bill as it stands.

I do not altogether agree with the Lord Advocate but I will not press the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Does the hon. and gallant Member wish to move the second of his Amendments to this Schedule?

May I move my Amendment, in page 16, line 7, after "Board," to insert:

"(three of whom including the chairman shall be selected for practical, commercial and wide business experience, including in the case of the deputy chairman experience of electrical supply)

I beg to move, in page 16, line 7, at the end, to insert:

"of whom one member shall be a person possessing intimate knowledge of the Highland area and the Highland conditions."
In our anxiety to get this Bill into law, some of my hon. Friends and myself have withdrawn some Amendments but this is an Amendment which we feel deals with one of the most important matters in the whole Bill. We have listened to speeches telling us what was to be done in the Highlands. Various suggestions have been made and we would like an assurance from the Minister that, included in the membership of this Board, shall be a person having intimate knowledge of Highland conditions. Part of the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) which you Mr. Williams, decided not to call, contained just what we fear. It says:
"three of whom including the chairman shall be selected for practical, commercial and wide business experience, …"
There is not a word in that Amendment about experience or intimate knowledge of the Highlands. It is true the Secretary of State has discussed this matter with a good many authorities in the Highlands and has given the assurance that there will be somebody on the Board who will know something about Highland matters but, as has been pointed out before, it is quite possible that a new Secretary of State may not feel so kindly intentioned to the Highlands as the present Minister. Therefore, may I ask that care shall be taken, when this Board is selected, that one member shall have an intimate knowledge of the Highland area and Highland conditions? We do not ask that he shall be a Highlander to the fourth generation, or shall live all the time in the Highlands, but we are very frightened of the type of person to whom the right hon. Gentleman made reference on the Second Reading whose interest in the Highlands extends from 12th August to 15th October.

I support the Amendment. All we are asking is that someone should be appointed who is conversant with Highland conditions, and will therefore command the complete confidence of people living in the Highlands.

I should like to oppose this. I think it is wrong in principle, and it is a very dangerous idea. I remember two or three years ago a Home Secretary who was a Scotsman and a Minister of Agriculture who was a Scotsman, and the present Minister and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health are both Scottish Members. If you apply the principle that because you have a job in the Highlands you have to have a Highlander on it, it is a very dangerous principle for Scotsman to adopt. They will lose more on the swings than they will gain on the roundabouts if the English people become self-conscious. Nothing could be more detrimental than for the Scottish people to suffer from an inferiority complex and say that every Scottish office should be held by a Scotsman.

I am totally at variance with the hon. Member opposite, for many reasons, The most competent Minister of Health that I have known in my experience was a native of Glasgow and a representative of a Glasgow constituency. It is not enough if the only qualification this representative needs is that he must know something of the Highlands. The people who know London best are those who come as visitors from time to time. I have been astonished at times to find how little many natives of London know of their native city. In running an electricity job, the first thing is to know something about the industry, its make-up, and how to handle the people who will run it. If I wanted to narrow down the choice of men, I should say one of the first things was to know how to deal with labour problems. This Board is not just confined to the Highlands. It is possible to get people who know something of the Highlands and also—

The hon. Member is saying exactly what we want. We are not asking that this official shall be a Highlander by birth, but that he shall know the Highlands.

It is assumed that anyone appointed to the Board will know something about electricity.

And it may be assumed that he will know something about the Highlands as well. I would sooner take the risk of a man who did not know the Highlands but knew electricity from beginning to end than vice versa. Let those who are making the choice have full liberty to pick the best men with regard to electricity, and I am certain they will also be capable of picking people who have some knowledge of the requirements of the Highlands and of Scotland in general.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment to define exactly what he means by the Highlands. No one pretends that Aberdeenshire is not going to be vitally affected by the Bill. Will he tell me whether Aberdeenshire is in the Highlands or not? I believe technically it is not. If the Amendment is carried, I shall have to try to move an Amendment of my own to say that someone who represents the interest of the North-East of Scotland should also be put on, and no doubt others will carry the question still further. On the whole, I am strongly opposed to regional appointments of this character, and I hope very much that the Lord Advocate will not accept the Amendment.

Two considerations weigh with me in addition to those that have been mentioned. One is that, if you have a very small Board, it is very undesirable to start defining the qualifications, because it will not be easy to get a good working team if you start from that angle. Of course, the Secretary of State will bear in mind that a great number of Members think that someone knowing the Highlands ought to be on the Board, but suppose you label one particular member as the Highland member, and he is in a permanent minority of one. Is it not very much better to assume that more than one of those who will be selected will know something about the Highlands, though that may not be their primary qualification? It is better not to tie ourselves to one person appointed as a Highland member, but to weigh up each possible name, having in view all the desirable qualifications, and see just how many of those qualifications he possesses.

I should like to ask hon. Members opposite to recall certain industrial organisations which started in the North of Scotland area with a great flourish of trumpets and were going to bring about the salvation of the Outer Islands.

I do not think we can possibly go into other organisations that exist in the Highlands.

I only wanted to say that there is a danger of the North of Scotland aspect being overlooked by a Board one section of whose duties is to provide electricity. In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 16, line 12, at the end, to insert:

"3. A person shall be disqualified for being appointed or being a member of the Board if he is an undischarged bankrupt or if he has granted a trust deed for behoof of creditors, or entered into a composition contract."
The purpose of this is to ensure that any person who is bankrupt or has granted a trust deed for behoof of creditors should be disqualified. We did not put it in to begin with because we did not think it a very likely eventuality which needed to be provided against, but representations have been made that it ought to be in, and we have given effect to them.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page i6, line 16, after "term," to insert:

"not less than five years nor longer than ten years as may be determined by the Ministers before his appointment."
This is to extend the period during which members of the Board may sit. The Schedule leaves the question of the term of office entirely to the Minister. It is hardly fair to ask responsible people to undertake duties of this character unless they feel some sense of security in the length of time they are likely to serve. They are probably giving up some other important activity for it. Perhaps they are doing it because they believe it to be a public duty. Suddenly, after a very short period, their services may be dispensed with. My object is to give them at least a decent period of time in office, and I think they will be more efficient at the end of it than at the beginning.

I can give my hon. and gallant Friend the fullest assurance that the Government realise the importance of a Board which will be able to have a continuous policy, but we do not want to tie our hands with regard to each and all of the members of the Board, because, particularly in war-time, when the number of people available may be more limited than in ordinary times, it may be that someone who would be a very good member to start the Board, will not be able to guarantee five, still less 10, years' service. Undoubtedly there is no intention of having a short-term Board. We want to keep our hands free, and there may be some cases where a shorter term than five years is appropriate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 16, line 34, after "vacant," to insert:

"and shall notify the fact in such manner as he thinks fit."
This is a very small point, but it does seem to me that when an office is vacant the public should know about it, and it is merely to suggest that when an office becomes vacant some definite notification for those interested should be insisted upon that I move the Amendment.

It is obviously a proper provision that a vacancy should be notified if that vacancy is to be filled by inviting applications. But it is not thought that in a matter of this kind the right way to proceed is to invite applications from people who would like to be members of the Board. We do not always get the right kind of applicant in this way. We would prefer therefore to select and not to invite people to apply, and if we are to do the selecting, there is not the same need to make public the fact that there is a vacancy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 16, after "Board," to insert "or their representatives."

This is merely to provide for the case where there may be a balance of salary or other allowance due to the representative of the official or wage-earner of the Board.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 17, after "allowances," to insert "and superannuation allowances and gratuities." This is merely to provide for the case where, in addition to allowances paid to officials, there may be superannuation allowances or gratuities.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 18, to leave out paragraph 14, and to insert:

"14. The Board may adopt the, provisions of Part 1 of the Local Government Superannuation (Scotland) Act, 1937, and, if they do so, that Act shall have effect in relation to the Board as if they were a local authority required to maintain a superannuation fund under Part 1 of that Act, and, in relation to any employee of the Board, as if the Board were a local authority within the meaning of that Act, not being either a local authority specified in Part 1 of the First Schedule thereto or a local Act authority within the meaning of that Act."
This Amendment is designed to enable the Board to adopt the provisions of Part 1 of the Local Government Superannuation (Scotland) Act, 1937, and if they do that then the officials and employees of the Board will be in the same position, so far as superannuation is concerned, as all the other local government employees in Scotland, and that seems to the Government to be a desirable position. For one thing, it will enable the ready exchange of employees from a local authority to the Board or from the Board to a local authority, and in other ways we think it would be an advantage.

Could my hon. and learned Friend tell me whether it is the intention to leave the Board free to adopt some other method of superannuation? For example, the Central Electricity Board has a scheme which I think is better than this scheme from the point of view of the employees. If the hon. and learned Member can give me an assurance that the Board will be able to adopt what scheme it likes, then I will agree to this Amendment.

I understand that to be the position. The Board has the option either to adopt the Local Government Act superannuation scheme, or another one which might be an improvement upon that, but it is not compulsory.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.