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Electricity Supply, Borrowdale

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1954

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

10.6 p.m.

I wish to raise this evening a constituency matter, and I am quite prepared to admit that this is a case of special pleading for the constituents of the Workington Parliamentary division, and specifically for those who live in the lovely valley of Borrowdale, which is still without an electricity supply.

I have raised this matter on two previous occasions. I had the good fortune to have the Adjournment on this subject on 14th November, 1951, and I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary who then replied to that debate is again here this evening. I again raised the matter on 19th June, 1953, on a general Motion connected with rural electricity. I make no apology for raising it again, and I must say quite frankly that I shall continue to raise it in Parliamentary time whenever I am successful in the Ballot, as long as the work is not started and my constituents are still deprived of an adequate and modern electricity supply.

The Minister himself, on 19th June, 1953, speaking in a debate on rural electrification, said that he would not be backward in this matter. I made an intervention, apart from the speech which I made on a specific subject, and the Parliamentary Secretary in the previous Adjournment debate, then admitted that he would not be unsympathetic if the general situation of the country improved. I assumed that he meant the Government's attitude towards capital investment and its effect on the development of electricity throughout the country as a whole, and that, if it was favourable, he would be only too pleased to embark on such schemes as that for Borrowdale. The Parliamentary Secretary specifically mentioned that in the previous Adjournment debate.

I believe that the general position has improved in relation to rural electricity. In 1952, I understand, £5 million was allocated for rural electricity; in 1953, the figure had increased to £6 million, and the Minister informed the House that this year we would be spending approximately £7½ million. I admit that that is an improvement, and that, despite high costs, there has been a desire to spend more of our resources on schemes which will benefit rural Britain. Because of the improvement in the general position, I believe that the time has now come for the specific case of Borrowdale, which, after all, is really a scheme for rural electrification, to be considered and implemented.

The Minister himself raised the hopes of many of us concerned about specific schemes in different parts of the country. He likened the electricity authority to a horse which would not be pulled back. To quote his words, he said that now that the horse had a chance to show his paces they hoped that he would go for ward at a smart trot. I want the North-Western Electricity Board to go ahead at the gallop. I shall not be satisfied until the horse is past the winning post of Borrowdale. Because of the Minister's statement and because he increased the general allocation for rural electricity, I hope that we shall have encouragement for the Borrowdale scheme to go ahead.

Moreover, the Minister said that the various electricity boards under the main authority had been long living in an atmosphere of rigid capital limitation and that they needed more freedom. He said that they needed encouragement, that that was what they were getting, and would get, from the Government. They were strong words. I am pleased when a Minister uses strong words about rural electricity, not only because of the specific case of Borrowdale, but because of the general effect upon our general agricultural industry.

I shall not be content tonight with an expression of sympathy or to be told that we shall have the usual favourable reply. I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary will give me something more definite and specific about the Borrow dale scheme. Of course, I recognise the difficulties. The development of electricity in the countryside should be concerned, quite rightly, with three very important items—national interest, defence, and productivity. All three must be considered in dealing with any particular scheme.

I know, too, the argument that it is easier to link up the urban communities. It is easier to have 300 consumers per mile linked up in an urban area than to have 10 per mile in a rural one, but I believe that the purpose of the Electricity Act in part was to bring electricity supplies to rural areas. We should emphasise that main principle of the strong helping the weak.

Tonight, I will not repeat in detail the case for Borrowdale. The Minister knows all the details, and I hope hon. Members know the great virtues of Borrowdale. It is one of the lovely Lake District valleys. I am very proud to represent it. It is an area of great beauty, and it attracts visitors. It really belongs to the nation. In Borrowdale, we have the lovely Lake Derwentwater. Ruskin said that the view of Derwentwater from Friars Cragg was the finest in Europe.

The House will appreciate that this area does not just concern the people of Borrowdale, the constituents of Working-ton and the people of Cumberland, but is a national concern. I am glad that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) is here—to support me, I hope, on this important matter, which affects Borrowdale and Cumberland. There we have the lovely villages of Rosthwaite, Seatoller, Stonethwaite and Seathwake. It is an area which has inspired artists and writers. Shelley, Southey, Coleridge and Lamb all found inspiration in Borrowdale.

Even if we consider the material aspect of physical defence which I previously mentioned, Borrowdale and Derwent water had a significance in the last war. I have been reading this weekend Paul Brickhill's magnificent book "The Dam Busters." It is a wonderful book, describing the valour and bravery of the Royal Air Force. I was interested to read that Wing Commander Guy Gibson, when leading 617 Squadron, practised his flights over Derwentwater when trying to fly accurately at 60 feet above water level before going on those successful raids over the German dams of Moehne and Eder.

It is rather interesting to note that the name of Borrowdale is mentioned in that walk of life. I am not stressing the defence point of view; I am merely arguing the amenity point of view, and pointing out that it is of national interest.

This area attracts visitors from all over the country. It is part of our National Parks area. There is even a productivity argument in Borrowdale. We have 20 farms. We have fell farms, which need electricity, and we have a quarry. We also have hotels and hostels which cater for visitors. These farms and hotels, which do so much for the country in different ways, need an adequate modern supply of electricity, and we should give it to them if we possibly can.

There is another point which I want to stress in relation to the Lake District and Borrowdale. It also has a man-made beauty, in its farms, hedges, cottages, and bridges, and we cannot ignore the local people if we wish to preserve that beauty, because it has been created by the work of the local inhabitants. To me, that is the most compelling of all arguments. My constituents, who look after this lovely area for the nation, and who, every year, by their skill and labour, provide enjoyment for thousands of visitors from England, Europe and the world, should have modern amenities, because they are doing something which is in the national interest.

The wives of my constituents have a right to electricity in their kitchens; they have a right to electricity for wireless and television. I know that hydro-electricity is used in many parts of Borrowdale, but that is not satisfactory in itself. We need a modern electricity supply. I am not going over all the old arguments and controversies of the past, which arose out of the clash between the amenity question and the desire to have a modern electricity supply. In the 1930s those arguments frustrated a scheme for electrification, but with good will on all sides I am certain that there will be no frustration now.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary is sympathetic to the question of rural electrification. From 1945 to 1950, in agricultural committees, I have often heard him pleading the case of the agricultural industry, and I know that on a previous occasion when I raised this matter on the Adjournment he expressed himself in similar terms. I hope that he will at least convey my views to his Minister, and that in view of the promises and the definite statements which the Minister made about the need to encourage electrification, he will give every encouragement to the North -Western Electricity Board to go ahead with this electricity scheme, which is so important to this area. In other words, I want action now, and I hope it will be forthcoming.

10.19 p.m.

Although the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and I do not agree about everything, we do at least agree wholeheartedly on the question of rural electrification. I remember that we both spoke upon this subject a year or two years ago. The hon. Member specifically mentioned Borrowdale, which is a very special example, but there are many other areas in the Lake District whose inhabitants are most anxious to have electricity and have been waiting for it for many years. I represent one such area.

Electricity boards are sometimes a little slow in acting, because when they plan to take their mains into dales such as Borrowdale there is immediate opposition on grounds of amenity. I do not think there ought to be such opposition. If only we can site the overhead lines intelligently, as frequently they are sited in Switzerland, and not necessarily site them to follow the shortest possible route, many of the amenity objections may be overcome.

As to capital expenditure, could we not save a great deal if we planned lines in a district like Borrowdale to ensure that telephonic lines and electric mains were carried on the same poles? Would that not save expenditure of capital, and meet the objection of those who consider that any works of this nature are necessarily detrimental to the view enjoyed not only by Ruskin but enjoyed and valued by many other people since? Surely, one line, even to the most inveterate opponents of works of this sort, is less objectionable than two.

I do not want to repeat the arguments of the hon. Gentleman, nor to prolong the debate unduly, but through personal experience of living in an area not far from Borrowdale where we have not yet had electricity, and where plan after plan has been made in the rough, I sympathise with the people who live in such districts, and I sincerely hope that the Minister may help the electricity boards with this most important task, and that in two years' time the hon. Gentleman may be able to start a debate, not to plead for further extensions, but to ex press his thanks for what has been done to bring this benefit not only to those people but to others.

10.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power
(Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)

One of the remarkable things we notice from time to time in this House is the solidity of old friend ships, and one cannot help being struck tonight by the renewed combination of forces directed against my right hon. Friend's Ministry through the alliance of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), for it is just 1½years ago that they were doing exactly the same thing as they are tonight.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Workington has pleaded for a favourable reply. Of course, I think I am going to give him a very favourable reply, but whether he will think the reply is favourable is a matter entirely for his opinion. It is a question upon which opinions may differ, though not from any party political point of view.

I would say straight away with regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said that this problem of siting the poles is, from the amenity point of view, an exceedingly difficult one. It is very largely a matter of opinion, and it is not so much a matter of individual personal opinion as a matter of general public opinion. I would remind the House of the references to the subject contained in the report of the productivity team which came over from America, and which was amazed at the attention we in this country paid to the amenity problems of increasing electricity supply. If we could in any way, not only with regard to the siting of poles, but generally with regard to the amenity problems of siting of electricity generation and transmission, simplify this, it would immensely speed up and consequently cheapen the production and dis tribution of electricity.

I say that in parenthesis, because it is not the point that was raised by the hon. Gentleman who initiated the debate. The first consolation I can offer him is that at any rate he is 2½ years nearer to getting electricity than he was when he raised the matter before. The hon. Member quoted one or two comments which my right hon. Friend made on the subject of rural electricity. I, too, have made similar comments in die course of debates. He referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend had said that he would not be backward in bringing rural electricity forward and that the general position concerning rural electricity had considerably improved. I think that is a just claim, particularly in the North-Western area.

May I give the hon. Member one or two figures to show that during the 2½ years the North-Western Board has not been idle in this matter? In 1951–52 it connected 595 farms to the main electricity supply. There was a slight improvement in 1952–53, when it connected 621 farms. In 1953–54, the year just ended, it connected over a thousand farms, which is a very substantial in crease. The connections are continuing at about the same rate.

The Board has now connected some 60 per cent, of the farms in this area, but it must be borne in mind that, not withstanding this improvement, some 22,000 farms and rural premises are still awaiting main electricity in the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland says, "My house, too." Most of us have been in that position at some time or another, and I can only hope that my hon. Friend will gain relief after a shorter delay than that which I and my family suffered.

A similar story of the improvement in rural electrification can be traced to the sub-area in which Borrowdale is situated—the Lakeland sub-area. In 1953–54, that sub-area of the Board made its record number of connections to farms—224 farms; but it must be borne in mind that in the sub-area no fewer than 160 schemes are waiting. It is estimated that these will cost £1½ million. These figures show that not only the Board as a whole but also the area within the Board, the Lakeland sub-area, have a very big job awaiting them.

The hon. Member referred to the limitation in capital expenditure and expressed a hope that this was no longer a major factor in precluding the rapid development of rural electrification. I can assure him that it is no longer a major factor. The limitations now are of a practical character. The available manpower required for planning and for progressing, as well as for the technical work, is all being absorbed in the area and put to use. That is the primary limitation in the development of rural electrification in the area.

No. I would not go as far as to say that. But it is the primary reason. These things take a long time to plan. It is necessary to build up the whole force so as to be able to put out the people who are physically doing the job, not only in a consecutive but also in an economic way. At both ends all the available staff which can be obtained are being put to work.

As an illustration, the Board's expenditure on rural electrification at present is running up to and will shortly reach no less than £800,000 a year, which is a very substantial sum.

The limitations are economic, however, as well as practical. It is the duty of the Boards to break even. They cannot invest public money in ventures which they know will be uneconomic. I am glad to say that their approach to this problem has undergone a considerable change in the last two years.

Some of the boards are now able to offer considerably better terms to those who seek rural electrification than they were able to two years ago, and although it is of little consolation to the hon. Gentleman in raising this point, it may be that his constituents will find, when the time comes for them to be linked up to the main electricity supply, there has been a definite advantage to them in that delay.

I want to emphasise that there has been no intentional or deliberate delay in this matter at all. In fact, the Lake District Planning Board, which is the development authority for this area, is kept in full consultation and knows full well of the action that the Board is taking and what plans it has for the electrical development of the area.

The Minister said that there has been no intentional or deliberate delay. That may very well be, but can he say whether there has been intentional and deliberate speed?

Oh, yes, I would certainly say so, and I think the figures I have quoted indicate the tremendous advance in the pressure which the Board have put upon rural electrification throughout the area. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no fewer than 160 schemes waiting in the sub-area of which Borrowdale forms a part, and the question of priority is a matter which it must decide. It is not possible for us in the Ministry to guide it, because there are all sorts of local considerations in which the Lake District Planning Board, which has been consulted, is particularly helpful in guiding it and in giving advice.

There is also the advice and consultation taking place through the Consultative Council, which is well informed upon this matter and has been pressing and assisting the Board in every way to get on with the job as fast as possible. It has found that there is no reluctance on the Board to get on with it as fast as possible. The Board is anxious to proceed with rural electrification in accordance with the speech made by my right hon. Friend last year, when he accorded all possible encouragement to the Board to proceed quickly with rural electrification.

I was glad to read in one of the news papers recently from that area that the chairman of the Consultative Council is reported to have said that in his view all the farms in the area, with the exception of a few of the more isolated ones, would be connected with the main electricity supply within the next seven or eight years. That shows the very rapid progress that has been made compared with the progress which was made in any com parable period in the development of the area.

But the question which the hon. Gentleman wants answered is, When is this going to take place? All I can tell him about that is that the Board is about to complete a new survey which it has been conducting throughout the whole of the Lakeland sub-area. That survey should be completed very shortly, and it is going to consider the results of it immediately. Therefore, in a few months' time it should be possible—and the Board is very cognisant of the necessity and urgency of this matter—to plan a revised programme in the development of the area and arrive at a date when they can calculate upon being able to bring electricity to Borrowdale. Though the hon. Gentleman may have electrified Borrowdale as much as was good for it, nevertheless the Board will try and bring light and power into that particular area. Whether the hon. Gentleman will consider that reply favourable or not. I can assure him that—

I am glad to think he considers it an improvement. I can assure him that the needs of his constituents are very well recognised by the Board, that the Board has made immense progress, not only in his constituency but throughout the area, in introducing rural electrification, and is determined to continue progressively as fast as it possibly can.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.