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Clause 19—(Joint Use Of Main Trans-Mission Lines)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 6 May 1943

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I beg to move, in page 13, line 30, to leave out "joint."

This is the first of four Amendments, the purpose of which is to make certain that Clause 19 shall work both ways. At present it entitles the Board to make use of the mains belonging to authorised undertakers. It is thought desirable that there should also be power to authorised undertakers to make use of mains belonging to the Board. The provision will be inserted later—I hope it will—to make certain that the original owner is not to be prejudiced by the handing over of surplus capacity. It is obviously highly desirable that in every possible case there should not be duplication of expensive mains. If there is excess capacity in existing mains, it is proper that either way it should be available for use the other owner.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 13, line 31, after "them,"insert" by the other."

In line 31, leave out "the Board," and insert "either of them"

In line 32, leave out "any such undertakers," and insert "the other."—[ The Lord Advocate.]

I beg to move, in page 13, line 33, to leave out "with the consent of the Electricity Commissioners."

As there are other Amendments dealing with very much the same point, perhaps we might discuss them together, Mr. Williams.

Yes. There is a further Amendment by the hon. Member to leave out words in line 35. We can discuss them together.

I have also to refer to the Amendment in the name of the Secretary of State affecting the same line. The reason for my Amendment is to remove power to the Commissioners to determine the terms upon which joint use of electricity transmission lines may be made. If passed in its present form, the Clause would confer on the Board, with the consent of the Electricity Commissioners, the right to use the main transmission lines of any authorised undertakers on any terms the Electricity Commissioners might decide. That would go far beyond existing legislation. The largest Board of this kind is the Central Electricity Board, with its network spread all over the country. Under the Act of 1926, Parliament conferred upon the Central Electricity Board the right to use the joint transmission lines of existing undertakers, by agreement with those undertakers. That arrangement works perfectly. joint use is made all over the country, without the necessity for any other person or authority coming in to decide upon what terms joint use should be made. Under the Bill, we are putting the new Board in the same position as if the Central Electricity Board were to function over the area, and giving them new powers, which the Central Electricity Board has found completely unnecessary. It is difficult for me to understand the inclusion of a Clause the value of which is nil and which cannot possibly be needed in the case of this Board, with its relatively small area in Scotland.

I am bound to repeat that once again Parliament is saying, "The powers we kept in our own hands until now we are no longer worthy to retain. Let us hand them over to a bureaucratic body and absolve ourselves of all responsibility." I shall refer once again to the arguments used by some of my hon. Friends on the other side yesterday. They asked, in long speeches, for everything in this Bill to be under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State.

I think the hon. Member is not only being betrayed but is going back to something which covers a very wide field indeed.

I am sorry if I transgressed. I think you will acquit me, Mr. Williams, of any wilful intention of so doing. The Government have put down an Amendment which provides that before their consent is given the Commissioners are to be satisfied that such use will not interfere with the use made, or likely to be made, of the lines of another party. I do not know whether those of us who hold property, of whatever kind it may be, like the prospect of somebody coming along and saying, "'A' join on with you, 'B,' to have the joint use of this property, and if you cannot agree on terms, we are going to come in and say what these terms will be." We are dealing with a Measure which is thoroughly bureaucratic, and the attendance in the Committee during the discussion of these Clauses has been extremely thin, because so few other than Scottish Members take an interest in Scottish legislation. Therefore there is no real understanding, or hearing indeed, of the arguments put forward for Amendments to Clauses. It seems of very little use to try to keep the Committee right by virtue of the experience one has acquired over a long period of years in the industry. All I can do is to point these things out to the Committee. If, in its lack of understanding, it makes mistakes in legislation, then the responsibility is not mine.

I regret to say that we cannot see our way to accept this Amendment. The purpose of the Amendment appears to be to allow someone who has no particular use for the line himself to refuse access to it by the person who has use for it. [Interruption.] If I understood my hon. Friend, he wants to allow the owner of a line to say to the Board, "You may not have access to this line," because he wants to delete, if I understand him aright, the provision which enables the Board to override the unwillingness of the owner and insist upon having access. I may have misunderstood him.

May I say that what is proposed is that it should be settled by an arbiter appointed by the Secretary of State?

I certainly misunderstood my hon. Friend's reference to the question of agreement being necessary under existing legislation. I understood him to say that he objected to that being altered. I am sorry if I misunderstood him. He now agrees that we are to depart from existing legislation to this extent, that it is no longer to be open to the undertaker, as it is under the existing legislation, to say, "I will not grant any assistance." My hon. Friend agrees that there should be provision for the forcing of access if the owner refuses it, but his only question is what should be the tribunal to decide the issue. We are both departing from existing precedents at that rate, and the question is the narrow one of which should be the tribunal. There would be a great deal to be said for an arbiter being the tribunal if this were only a question of settling finance, settling the amount of compensation, but it is a great deal more than that, because if the Committee accept the Amendment which will shortly be moved the Electricity Commissioners must determine what use, if there is any surplus, can properly be granted to the requesting body. If there are two inquiries, surely it is unnecessarily cumbrous? If I understand the picture aright, there is first to be an inquiry by the Electricity Commissioners as to what surplus capacity there is, and there is to be another decision as to whether that should be handed over and, if so, on what terms. Perhaps the arbiter is to be the person who is to state whether surplus capacity exists?

On a point of Order. Is it possible for a Minister to argue against an Amendment on the ground that there are to be certain words in the Bill which are not yet proposed?

It is permissible to say that an Amendment is not necessary because later we are going to do something else.

Further to that point of Order. The Lord Advocate is arguing that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) is unnecessary because if it is passed there is going to be another Amendment which will result in two tribunals dealing with the one job. Surely that is improper. The Amendment mentioned by the Lord Advocate is not yet part of the Bill, and there is no need that it should be part of the Bill. Therefore he is bringing in a matter of complete prejudice in bringing in something which is not under discussion.

I listened to the hon. Member for Stockport, and I took it that he asked for discussion on these three Amendments when he formally moved his first Amendment. That is a common practice of the Committee, so that we will not repeat the discussion, and also in order that the question may be dealt with in a comprehensive way which would not otherwise be possible. I think the Lord Advocate is simply following that practice.

If we kept to the strict rules of accuracy—and in theory we should never depart from them—the Lord Advocate is wrong, but it is such a small point that it is in the interests of the Bill and of the Committee that we should discuss several points like this. I think he is wise in taking the course he has done.

I have an Amendment on the same point. Is it permissible for me to speak in this general discussion?

Yes, I think it would be a good idea if the hon. Member did so, with the consent of the Committee.

Perhaps I had better finish my remarks on the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport before I deal with anything else. I think we have got so far that we are all agreed there should be some provision in default of the agreement of the parties and the question is what should the tribunal be. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend regards the arbiter mentioned in the second Amendment as the appropriate tribunal for every possible question that can arise under Clause 19 in its present or amended form. If he does, I should disagree with him, because of a great many questions—the prospective Amendment is only one of them—which are of a technical character which no arbiter could solve without a technical assistant or assessor. All those questions are appropriate for the Electricity Commissioners to decide. If the Committee agree with me so far, I submit that it would be unnecessary to bring in an arbiter as a second tribunal to decide part of the issue when the Electricity Commissioners are well qualified to decide the whole issue, and that we should be well advised to leave it all to them.

The Lord Advocate's speech is based on the assumption that this is a coercive Clause. It is not; it is only enabling. It enables two authorised undertakers to enter into an agreement to do something which, at the moment, is, I think, illegal. Then two issues arise. If the one authorised undertaker, the Board, decides to enter into an agreement with another authorised undertaker, in the public interest it may have to be decided that the terms which the existing undertaker demands from the Board are terms which are fair and equitable between all parties concerned. That is the issue dealt with by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). There is the further issue, a technical one, that if the Board enter into this arrangement with this other authorised undertaker, will the partial use by the Board of the transmission system of the other authorised undertaker prejudice the consumers of the other authorised undertaker? These are two completely separate issues.

The first thing is the terms. A great many people in the electricity supply industry, with which I used to be connected, have very little faith in the Electricity Commissioners, neither the municipal undertakers nor company undertakers. They do not regard them as a very competent body. If you could take a ballot among all the people engaged in the electricity supply industry, Which is two-thirds municipal, as to whether the Commissioners should be continued or wiped out and their powers put directly under a Minister, I believe you would have an overwhelming majority for eliminating the present body of Commissioners. I do not think they are an efficient body. They are dilatory. What a Minister does may be subject to interrogation in this House. As to what the Commissioners do, the degree of interrogation is very limited. I think in these matters, when the terms under which a transmission line may be used which may have the effect of altering the prices at which people buy electricity are determined by Act of Parliament, it should be competent in this House to address questions on the cost to the Minister of Fuel and Power or the Secretary of State for Scotland. If my hon. Friend's Amendment is carried, that would be possible.

As regards the purely technical point, the same investigation could be used on both points, on price or any technical risk involved. It is easy to associate with the arbiter a technical assessor if he is wanted, but I do not think the arbiter would want one. He would hear both sides, and anyone with a grievance, who felt that this transmission was so heavily loaded that it was undesirable that any power should be transferred from it, could put his case, and it would be a matter which anyone with reasonable intelligence could decide. There is a very powerful case for this Amendment and no need at all for the Government Amendment, and I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will succeed in his proposal.

I am surprised at the attitude of the Mover of the Amendment and his supporter. Yesterday they took an entirely different point of view when hon. Members on this side of the Committee sought to place responsibility on the Secretary of State for Scotland. Even the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), in his Amendment, places the responsibility on the Secretary of State for the appointment of an arbiter. The Secretary of State in drafting the Bill has already decided upon the arbiter, and that it should be the Electricity Commission. I do not know whether it has occurred to him or not, but that is really the effect of the Bill as it stands. He has appointed the Electricity Commission. The hon. Member does not seem to realise that and is asking him to do it again.

I may be very dull—I do not pretend to be as extraordinarily bright as "The Three Musketeers" over there, but my point is that the Secretary of State is appointing someone to judge his own case. That is the difference between the Commissioners and an independent arbiter.

Under the Amendment any arbiter may be appointed by the Secretary of State.

The Electricity Commission have to approve of schemes and they would, naturally, like to see their views prevail and to give decisions accordingly.

If the Amendment were accepted by the Government it would still be the view of the Minister that the arbiter should be the Electricity Commission. Another point that struck me in the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport was that he was warning us very gravely about the interference with property rights involved in the use of the transmission system of some other undertaker. I wonder at the barefaced audacity of a statement like that from the hon. Member in view of his own record with regard to so much of the legislation that has been passed in the House of Commons. All my constituents, whose property mainly consists of labour power, are having their property directed every day. There is not a separate arbiter for them. There are hardship committees, and the hon. Member voted for them, but when it comes to material property he gets all hot and bothered about it.

I would remind the hon. Member that I deliberately declined to vote for the power to direct labour and I am also supporting the Amendment.

I possibly did not realise the importance of the support of the hon. Member for Stockport in this connection. I apologise to the hon. Member. I did not realise that he was the power behind the throne. The Government are well advised, in dealing with this matter, to leave the decision in the hands of the Electricity Commissioners. As the Lord Advocate has pointed out, many questions will arise and the hon. Member should not be afraid of the possibility of action by the Electricity Commissioners. I hope that the Government will not yield either to the blandishments of the hon. Member for Stockport or the complaints of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams).

There has, apparently, been a great deal of dissension on this matter but underlying all the speeches there is a general measure of agreement. It is generally agreed that, at some point, somebody should act as arbiter, and I think it will be agreed there are two points that the arbiter will have to examine. One is the technical problem of the supply of electricity and the other the problem of financial terms. The Lord Advocate was right in bringing up that point. The Amendment that I have on the Paper—in page 13, line 35, to leave out from "conditions" to the end of the Clause, and add:

"(other than financial terms and conditions) as those Commissioners may determine and on such financial terms and conditions as shall be determined failing agreement by an arbiter appointed by the Secretary of State, and the arbiter may, in any case in which he thinks it expedient to do so, call in the aid of one or more qualified assessors and hear the case wholly or partly with the assistance of such assessors"
—probably meets the general view of the Committee. My suggestion is that as regards the technical problem of electricity supply, the Clause should stand as it is and that the Electricity Commissioners should be the judges, and the Secretary of State should be supported. But on the problem of financial terms, the body concerned should have the same right to apply for arbitration by an outside person as have the various authorised undertakers under many sections of the Act of 1926. Under that Act the authorised users of electricity are given the right in several cases to apply for an arbiter on financial points outside the purview of the Electricity Commissioners. The Lord Advocate will recall Sections 4, 9 and 14 of the Act of 1926 which provide for an arbiter on financial terms giving the companies the right to apply for that method. If Parliament thought it right then to give the companies that power, why is it withdrawn now? I ask that the Government continue the decision made by Parliament in 1926. If it were in order now, I would move. my Amendment In any case I feel that my Amendment covers the ground and represents the widest measure of agreement.

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he can conceive any circumstances in which the Electricity Commissioners might not be biased if they were arbiters? They are concerned with the preparation of schemes all the way through and have to approve of several things. If a dispute arose we might have a set of circumstances in which they would be biased arbiters, and, if so, ought they to be arbiters instead of having an independent tribunal?

I hardly think that it is possible to conceive of any circumstances which would necessarily imply bias or that the Electricity Commissioners would prejudge the issue, which is probably what my hon. and gallant Friend also has in mind. They are concerned with schemes at many stages. This, however, raises a different issue and it is right that the tribunal which has general responsibilities for the transmission of electricity all over the country, should have to take the responsibility of making what may be a difficult decision. I am not impressed by the criticisms of the Electricity Commissioners as such, for the reason that we have heard a certain amount in favour of the McGowan Report, which not only does not agree with the criticisms, but suggests that the Commissioners should be entrusted with further duties. I take my stand on the fact that the Commissioners are an established body of experts to deal with judicial and quasi-judicial matters in the electrical industry and we should not upset that arrangement in this Bill.

That is the whole point of my Amendment. I am asking that the Commission be not upset. I said that under the Act of 1926, arrangements are made for financial questions to be settled by the arbiter and I am asking that that decision be maintained.

Amendment negatived.

On a point of Order. Do I understand that the Secretary of State is not moving the other Amendment—in page 13, line 35, at the end, to add:

"Provided that the Electricity Commissioners, before giving consent to such use, shall be satisfied that such use will not interfere with the use made or likely to be made by the owners of the transmission line"?

I beg to move, in page 13, line 35, at the end, to add:

"Provided that the Electricity Commissioners, before giving consent to such use, shall be satisfied that such use will not interfere with the use of the transmission line which may from time to time require to be made by the owners thereof in order to meet their requirements."
The Clause, as now amended, gives permission to the Board and authorised undertakers to enter into agreements to use the main transmission lines belonging to either of them and where they cannot reach agreement the district commissioners decide the matter. The object of the Amendment is to secure that the owner of the main transmission line, whether the Board or some other producer, shall have the use of that line if the full capacity is required. I observe from the Amendment put down in the name of the Secretary of State that he is seemingly of the same opinion. The only difference between the two Amendments lies in the fact that the Secretary of State's Amendment says,
"The Electricity Commissioners, before giving consent … shall be satisfied that such use will not interfere with the use made or likely to be made by the owners of the transmission line."
I want to draw attention to those words because that is at the root of the whole matter. It is impossible in a developing undertaking to say at any moment what use is likely to be made of the transmission lines by the owners. You have a large power user—and that is what we are trying to get into this district—suddenly coming into the area and you want to be able to supply a large amount of electrical energy. If the line is being used by some other body as well as yourself you may be unable to give the supply. I think the Committee will agree that the owner of the line should be able to supply anyone coming into his district and that he should have the first use of the line. Instead of the thing being decided once and for all by the Commissioners, the Amendment asks that it may be considered from time to time. A line may be capable of being used by some other party in the meantime, but later conditions may change, and we wish the thing to be reviewed in the light of the circumstances as they are at that date. That is the whole object of the Amendment and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accept it.

There was no difference at all between our intention in our Amendment and the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment, which we agree makes it clearer that there should be reconsideration from time to time. It is quite right that there ought to be that reconsideration and we are quite prepared to accept his wording instead of ours.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.