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Electricity Supplies, Brentford

Volume 466: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1949

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

5.55 a.m.

I must obviously start my remarks by apologising both to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House, for this further detention at this hour. Perhaps I should also apologise to the wife of my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, because I know that I shall have to apologise to my own wife when I get home after 15½ hours.

The matter which I have to raise is one of great importance to many people in my constituency, and is one with which I have concerned myself for some time now. It is a problem which is not confined to my own borough, though it is probably felt there as a particular hardship. As my hon. Friend knows, there is a large and important gas works on the banks of the Thames at Brentford. That works brought work and other advantages to many people there. But it has also apparently caused one disadvantage which is, that at present, out of 5,261 premises in Brentford, only 3,640 are connected with a supply of electricity. That means that, roughly speaking, for every three homes in Brentford which have electric light and heating, one home is still without this very necessary modern convenience.

The great majority of the people living in those houses have never had the option of having electricity installed. They are anxious to know the reason for the long delay, and how much longer they will have to wait. My hon. Friend will be aware of the disadvantage in which they are placed by having only gas for heating and lighting. He will be aware that gas lighting is often very uncleanly; that it is difficult in these days to get modern fittings for gas lighting; that in small houses with low ceilings it can cause a great deal of uncomfortable heat, especially at this time of the year; and that householders have to put up with the absence of modern conveniences, wireless, electric fires and refrigerators—things which have come to be regarded as normal equipment in the modern home.

I understand that the local difficulty of providing these people with electricity in their homes does not present great problems. There are cables in, or near, all the streets containing houses which are not yet lit by electric light. I cannot imagine that technically the job of connecting these houses to mains which are already there would be difficult. I understand that the reason no action has been taken is that the Minister has issued a directive which is still in force, and which limits the connection of electricity supplies to domestic premises, except in a few special cases. But many of my constituents do not understand the reason for this directive. One of them wrote to me saying that it was unbelievable that the present Government would deny the working class electric light without some excellent reason for doing so.

Can my hon. Friend give answers to the following four questions? First: precisely what is the reason which has compelled my constituents, and many others, to wait so long for the installation of electric light? Second: whether he is satisfied that this reason is still valid? Third: when does he think that my constituents can reasonably expect to have electric lighting made available in their home in Brentford? And finally: can he give an assurance that he appreciates the real urgency of this matter and the hardship which the present circumstances are causing to many people? It is a matter of very great concern locally, and a lot of people do not understand what is happening at present.

There are also one or two minor questions which perhaps my hon. Friend could answer. Many people are confused when they see that the restrictions upon outdoor illuminations are removed. They do not understand why, if electric current is available for that purpose, it should not also be made available to them. They also are anxious to know, in the event of their homes eventually being connected to the electric mains, what kind of installation charges they will have to pay, and what the consumption charges for electricity will be.

During the last few days some 1,200 of my constituents have signed an appeal which I shall be pleased to show to my hon. Friend, and which shows how important they consider this matter. I would be grateful if he will say that he would look at it and see what these people say. In conclusion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to thank you for allowing me to put this question to the House after a 15½ hours' sitting, and to ask my hon. Friend to see what can be done for my constituents.

6.1 a.m.

Despite the hour, I have listened attentively to what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that it is only his keen sense of public duty which has kept him to deliver the speech he has just made. But, having said that, I cannot agree that his constituents are suffering hardship because they have only gas and not electricity; inconvenience, perhaps, but not hardship. They cannot have electric fires, but there are very good gas fires on the market; they cannot have electric refrigerators, but, again, there are gas refrigerators. I agree they cannot have electric wireless sets, but there are plenty of battery sets, so these people are not deprived of wireless.

In many spheres there are very good substitutes which the gas industry is able to provide. All the same, I agree that there is inconvenience, and the hon. Member's constituents are entitled to know why the Ministry has asked the area boards to put in installations in a sort of priority. I need hardly remind the House that during the years of war there mounted up a backlog in the erection of power stations, and we are engaged in putting electricity into the rural areas so that we can assist the agricultural workers and farmers to do their job more efficiently. But a great deal of equipment and labour has to be used on wiring new houses, and there must be some sort of priority list to ensure that we use, to the best advantage, what is available to the best interests of all concerned.

What the Minister did was to invite area boards—and there was no question of "instructing" them—to put electricity supplies in this order: first, for essential public services; secondly, for new domestic or commercial premises; thirdly, for war damaged houses made habitable again, or houses divided into separate tenancies; fourthly, for farms and farm workers' cottages, where the county agricultural executive committee advises us that this will help toward increased food production; fifth, existing premises where the existing appliances for heating or cooking are worn out, and, lastly, where a medical certificate is produced justifying a supply of electricity on grounds of health.

That, I think my hon. Friend will agree, is not an unreasonable list, and I think that all will agree that installations should be roughly in that order. But, where the area board can extend the area of supply, well, they are perfectly free to do that. In these particular cases, they have not felt it possible to take men and materials from all the work they have to do and put them into existing houses for the purpose of putting electricity in the place of gas.

My hon. Friend says that his constituents wonder why there should be illumination outside and yet they cannot have an electricity supply. The fact is that the electrical advertising signs were already installed and that in any case they are using electricity at off-peak hours which is rather important. There is an order which, when it comes to the winter months will prevent the use of electrical signs for advertising between seven o'clock in the evening and seven o'clock in the morning. During the summer that is not a big problem because the light hours are longer. He also asks us whether they can expect electricity soon in their homes. I cannot tell him that. That is a matter for the Electricity Board which serves his area.

Perhaps I should at this point say that the chairmen of the area boards are meeting next month to review the whole question of these priorities and to decide whether or not there is a possibility of amending them or, in the light of the supply position, improving the situation as far as supply is concerned. They will advise the Minister as to the position and the advice given to the area boards as a whole will be changed accordingly. I cannot tell him whether or not in the immediate foreseeable future his constituents will have electricity.

I have here a letter from the Southern Electricity Board which refers to the circular from which my hon. Friend quoted and which says that as long as the restrictions outlined in it are enforced they cannot undertake any development in Brentford. It finishes by saying that as soon as the restrictions are withdrawn the Board will give early consideration to the question of providing supplies in this area, which led me to imagine that the difficulty is not so much with the boards but with the restrictions imposed on them.

The supply and use of electricity is dependent upon the electricity generating supply at home which is not governed by the area boards but by the British Electricity Authority. The chairmen of the area boards will be meeting next month to review the whole supply position and to deal with the question of priority lists. We shall have advice as to what is the position in the matter of raising some of the restrictions we have put down.

The other question which my hon. Friend asked was what the installation charges would be and what would be the rate for electricity at the time they are connected up? Those are matters for the area board which is in sole control of charges and installation costs and so on. The hon. Member and his constituents should make use of the services of the consultative council for that area if they feel the installation charges are unfair or that they are not being fairly treated as to the charges for electricity when the installations are completed. The area boards are most anxious to increase their areas of supply and they probably will continue to act in a competitive spirit in relation to gas undertakings in the same area. So far as restrictions are concerned we laid them down to boards in the best interests of the country, bearing in mind the supply position and the necessity for fulfilling urgent tasks before we substituted one form of illumination for another.

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary one question? I understood him to say that in the winter external illuminations would be prohibited between seven in the evening and seven in the morning. I am wondering whether it is not the other way round.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes past Six o'Clock a.m.