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Electricity Industry (Organising Committee)

Volume 437: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1947

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The House will recollect that during the passage of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, an Organising Committee was set up to make the necessary plans and preparations for taking over the industry. This procedure avoids an unduly long interim period between the passing of the Bill and the vesting date, and in the case of electricity it is particularly necessary to shorten the interim period since one of the most important tasks for the new Authority will be to press on with the provision of new generating plant by the earliest possible date.

Following, therefore, the precedent set in the case of coal, I have decided to set up an Organising Committee for the electricity industry, and the following have accepted my invitation to serve on the Committee:—
  • Lord Citrine: Chairman.
  • Sir Johnstone Wright: General Manager, Central Electricity Board.
  • Mr. J. Hacking: Chief Engineer, Central Electricity Board.
  • Lieut.-Colonel E. H. E. 'Woodward: General Manager, North Eastern Electric Supply Company.
  • Mr. J. Eccles: City Electrical Engineer, Liverpool Corporation.
  • Mr. E. W. Bussey: General Secretary of Electrical Trades Union.
In addition, the Committee wilt have the advice and assistance of the Electricity Commissioners.

Mr. Harold Hobson is resigning the Chairmanship of the Central Electricity Board as from 31st July next, and in order to facilitate the arrangements for setting up the new organisation under the Electricity Bill, Sir Johnstone Wright has accepted my invitation to succeed him during the interim period until the Central Electricity Board is taken over by the British Electricity Authority.

In view of his new duties, Lord Citrine is resigning from the National Coal Board and I am appointing Sir Joseph Hallsworth to succeed him.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this Committee, whose names he has read out, to organise the electricity industry will address themselves to the interests of the nation as a whole, or whether they will be told that the only thing is to look after organised labour and not to care a tinker's curse for anyone else?

Not for the first time—I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I deplore the fact—the right hon. Gentleman is barking up the wrong tree—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why? Which tree?"] The right hon. Gentleman has a facility—

The right hon. Gentleman has a facility, an almost infantile facility, for believing what he reads in the newspapers. I would ask him before forming a conclusion to seek information on this matter.

As for the abilities and functions of this particular organising committee, the names I have read out are themselves an indication of their capacity for undertaking the work in the interests of the whole nation.

I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman feels as though he were up a tree. May I assure him that I do not rely only upon the newspaper Press? I took the trouble to procure the best reports available of certain remarks attributed to him. Of course, if he wishes to explain that he did not use those remarks, no one would be more pleased than I am and no one would be more ready to accept the fact that he disengages himself from the whole business.

I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman should put himself so completely out of Order on this question.

I presume we are to await a personal explanation from the right hon. Gentleman—

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will circulate with the Votes the salaries of this important Committee?

No question of salary emerges at this early stage. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do they work for nothing?"] This is an organising Committee—

—and practically all the persons concerned, with the exception of Lord Citrine, will be engaged in their ordinary duties in the undertakings with which they happen to be concerned, but they haw, agreed, and I am grateful to them, to serve on this Committee. As regards Lord Citrine, the question of salary has yet to be settled.

I suppose when it is settled we shall be told, but was it not a great pity to move Lord Citrine, for whom I have the greatest respect—I have often worked with him in public matters —from the Coal Board at a time when, after a good many months, he must have been gaining a mastery of the specialised knowledge needed for the successful administration there? Was it not possible to form this Committee without making a serious rent in the Coal Board?

It was not unusual for the right hon. Gentleman in his terms of office in various capacities over a long period of years to make appointments without accepting the views of the Opposition.

May I ask the Minister why he did not appoint a group of men who would give greater confidence to organised labour than that unholy bunch?

There is nothing unholy about it. All the gentlemen who have accepted my invitation possess high qualifications for this task. There are four highly technical persons on the Committee—Sir Johnston Wright, Mr. J. Hacking, Colonel Woodward and Mr. J. Eccles. Mr. Bussey has high qualifications because of his association with the industry, and the interests of the workers cannot be ignored. As for Lord Citrine, the right hon. Gentleman has just told us of his high qualifications.

Will my right hon. Friend state if these names are any guide to membership of the permanent authority?

No, I can assure the House that there is no further commitment except· that, if the House consents to pass the Electricity Bill and the Board has to be appointed, Lord Citrine has expressed himself as willing to accept the chairmanship of the British Electricity Authority. So far as the other gentlemen are concerned, there is no further commitment.

Are we to understand from the Minister's reply that though this House is to pass the Electricity Bill, these gentlemen are acting solely in a voluntary capacity and under part-time arrangements?

I have told the House about the position of Lord Citrine, but apart from Lord Citrine the persons concerned are engaged in other activities and are no' doubt receiving remuneration. There will be some question of readjustment for expenses—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] It is not uncommon to pay expenses in these matters, but that has not yet been decided.