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Clause 1—(Extension Of Borrowing Powers)

Volume 530: debated on Friday 16 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

2.52 p.m.

A few moments ago I referred to the absence of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. G. Nabarro). I am glad to see that he is now in his place.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, I have only taken 10 minutes away from the Chamber for essential sustenance, so his remark is a little invidious.

The presence of the hon. Gentleman has real significance because, in the course of the Second Reading debate, he concluded his speech by saying that he proposed to put down Amendments during the Committee stage of the Bill. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman failed to keep that undertaking from the point of view of those of us who anticipated listening to his Amendments and having a full discussion on them. I suggest that when an hon. Gentleman gives a virtually clear undertaking of that kind, he ought to intimate why he has changed his mind and what were the reasons which induced it.

I will read the hon. Gentleman the words I used. I said:

"Probably in Committee I shall ask that we may consider reducing the sums voted so that there may be more regular Parliamentary accountability and scrutiny as to how these large sums of capital are to be spent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1954 Vol. 529, c. 2578.]
Since then my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made his important pronouncement about a Standing Committee for controlling these matters of accountability for the nationalised industries, so the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong.

I am grateful for that intervention, because it makes clear the mind of the hon. Gentleman, but at the moment when we were discussing the £700 million he retired from the Chamber for essential sustenance. My only comment on that interruption is his own intervention in column 2569 during the same debate when he, with characteristic modesty, said, "I observed 'absolute drivel'." I am quite sure that he was right.

I am happy that a series of fortuitous circumstances have given us the opportunity of discussing this matter, though I thought there were other matters of constitutional importance to be discussed first. This is a matter of great importance to the economy of the country and it is fortunate that we have ample time at least to open the discussion of it today. We can pursue it on a later occasion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) made an important observation when he said that Members for rural constituencies are naturally concerned as to the allocation of electricity for rural development and for the development of our agricultural production. It is also true that those of us who represent industrial constituencies, many of which are still working with old machines and plant and with inadequate supplies, are naturally concerned about electrical development for the production of the basic needs of our towns.

All of us—certainly all those who will travel north by train tonight—are concerned with the vital matter of the electrification of the railways. Here I believe we are lagging behind the industrialised world. Here our railway services are lamentable in the extreme as a result of years of war as well as years of lack of development. I see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster is smiling, probably because he thinks I am criticising a nationalised industry.

On a point of order, Sir Charles. You will recall that the electrification of railways is referred to in the appropriate Section of the Fuel and Power Act, 1945—I repeat 1945—and is subject to regulations made jointly by the Minister of Fuel and the Minister of Transport. As the provisions of Clause 1 of this Bill stem from the financial provisions in the Electricity Act, 1947—I repeat 1947—is it not out of order to refer to matters concerned with the electrification of railways?

We cannot deal with the purposes of other Acts. We can only deal with the problem of why more money is required.

Further to that point of order. Sir Charles. This is for all practical purposes a one-Clause Bill—although some points may arise on Clause 2 about the exclusion of Northern Ireland. The Minister dealt with a number of these matters on Second Reading, but any effective discussion of them was prevented by the Amendment to the Question which was selected. One of those matters was the total volume of electricity available to the country and Mr. Speaker ruled that it would be proper to discuss in Committee the very issues on which I understand my hon. Friend has embarked.

3.0 p.m.

I appreciate that, but might I say that if you look at the debate on Second Reading, which I think you are entitled to do, you will see at column 2527 that an Amendment was moved after there had only been two speeches on the actual issues which were before us. That debate, therefore, was on rather a different issue, the issue of capital expenditure and the control of capital expenditure, which is a wider issue than is contained in this Clause. I think it is perfectly proper to take into consideration in any ruling which you give that the question in Committee is different to the discussion which we had in the House on Second Reading. The House then was concerned with matters which are outside the ambit of the issues with which my hon. Friend is attempting to deal.

I am much obliged, but I do not know that I have been able to derive very much encouragement from either of the interventions that have been made. They have had the unfortunate result of making me forget the point upon which I was about to embark. I shall therefore have to embark upon another.

The Clause which we are now discussing is, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, virtually the whole Bill. It provides:
"The enactments limiting the borrowing powers of the British Electricity Authority and Area Electricity Boards, and of the Gas Council and Area Gas Boards, by reference to the aggregate amounts of stock and loans outstanding shall be amended as follows."
Then follows the increases, in the one case from £700 million to £1,400 million, and in the other from £250 million to £450 million.

I personally have no desire to widen the discussion at all, and I wish to confine myself to a very narrow compass. But, in fairness to those who may follow me, I think that the discussion comes within the ambit of the development programme of the British Electricity Authority and the gas boards. So far as I am concerned, I have no desire to widen it to that extent.

During the Second Reading debate there was some discussion on the question of the electrification of the railways, and that seems to me to be a perfectly corn-patent point for us to discuss before we vote on what, after all, is giving power for the expenditure of £950 million. I think it was the Parliamentary Secretary who said, "Please do not think we are going to splash this straight away. Obviously we are not. It is merely an increase in the limit of our borrowing subject to Treasury guarantee, and please understand that what we are doing is we are pursuing logically and almost inevitably a programme of industrial expansion in which every single project will be subject to the approval of the Minister." I think that is, in essence, what the hon. Gentleman said, and if I am wrong I will be happy to give way so that he can correct me.

The point I am dealing with is the type of project which the Minister is likely to approve. I would have thought that on such a point I could expand my personal views about the Minister and whether he is the sort of man to trust with £950 million of public money to spend. But, in view of the tributes which have been paid to him, I do not want to do that. What we ought to discuss is how this money is to be spent, what are the needs of the consumer, who are the consumers, how we will balance consumption between the personal consumer, to whom the Minister referred, and the industrial consumer, and the national project of development which all that implies.

In this respect, I want to say a few words about the railways, because this is a matter very close to my heart. I have to travel to Oldham tonight and it is not an ideal journey. It means travelling from Euston to Manchester and then changing. If the Minister has not done it in a normal way of things, he ought to try the unhappy experience. I observe an hon. Member opposite smiling, and perhaps he is thinking that here is a Socialist criticising a nationalised industry. But I have often said in this House that I thought the British Transport Commission was the worst of all of the nationalised boards and is very inefficient in many ways.

Of course, the British Transport Commission has to depend upon the amount of money allocated by the Minister on the project approved by the Minister, and also at the moment it is labouring under the misery of having a Conservative Government which is opposed to nationalisation, which is breaking up the industry, which is disintegrating it, and which is, if I might coin a rather dreadful word, "de-co-ordinating" it.

Some weeks ago I travelled fairly extensively by rail in France. I remember 25 years ago we in this country spoke with contempt of the French railways. We used to refer to their accident rate and to the lateness of their trains. I travelled recently, not merely on the main important trains, but third class on the little connecting links, and with the exception of one day when there was a strike these trains were all on time. They were nearly all electrically run.

I travelled up from Provence to Gorge du Tarn, where the electrified railway climbs literally several thousand feet over the mountains and where one is at the height of some of the highest mountains in the Sedan and going at a quite fast speed by the mountain railway. Within a week or two I was using our own railway system to go to the Lake District. When I got up towards Barrow-in-Furness I had to come back 50 or 60 miles, travel round by the coast by the old coal-burning railway, and two hours later arrived back towards where I had started from.

In case my hon. Friend's remarks have given the impression of an unfavourable comparison between our nationalised railways and the French railways, will he make it clear that the French railways also are nationalised?

Of course, I bow to your Ruling, Sir Charles, but it is unfortunate that I am asked a question and am then unable to reply to it. I hope I shall be permitted to say one sentence to my hon. Friend, or I shall be reported in HANSARD as having been asked a question and being wholly unable to answer it.

Perhaps the hon. Member will see his hon. Friend outside the Chamber afterwards.

The millions of readers of HANSARD would in that case be under a complete misapprehension as to the observations I was making. But I do not wish to press the point or to press any points of detail. The general point is that the allocation of a considerable proportion of this development sum to the electrification of the railways is a matter of great importance. Unless we have some indication from the Minister that he has projects of this kind in mind—

On a point of order. I drew your attention earlier, Sir Charles, to the fact that no sums provided under the Bill can in any circumstances be used for railway electrification works. In those circumstances, is it not completely out of order to discuss any aspect of railway electrification?

I am not conversant with the law. I think, however, that it is not out of order, but I may be wrong. Perhaps the Minister can advise me.

The sums provided for in the Bill could not, I understand, be spent directly on railway electrification, but the facilities which could be provided could be used for supplying the power.

That has made it quite clear, although we were not under any misapprehension. When I was talking about domestic consumption I was not under the impression that the British Electricity Authority would provide me with a hair dryer. Indeed, my need for that implement has diminished over the last few years. All that I was suggesting was that the Authority was providing electricity which I could use for that purpose if I so desired. So far as the British railways are concerned, before they can be electrified the electricity must be pro vided, which is precisely the factor which, among others, we are now discussing in this Bill, which provides for the expenditure of several hundred million pounds upon electricity.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster may be in a lighthearted mood today, but this is an important project and one on which the House ought to have the opportunity of careful consideration and a little information. I think I am right in saying that the only railway electrification of any importance that has taken place in Britain since the war—or, indeed, since before the war—is the line from Sheffield to Manchester, which has just been completed.

There is another very important stretch from Liverpool Street to Shenfield, which is probably the best electric line in the world.

I am much obliged; my hon. and learned Friend makes my point.

Let me mention one matter of major importance. In the area of Drigg, in Cumberland, we are now developing an atomic energy plant. It has the worst railway service in the world. The only way of providing an adequate railway service to Drigg is to cut over the mountains to Ulverston. That is the only way, and it has been talked about for years and years. Surely the moment when we are asked to vote £700 million is the moment to ask what is going to happen about a scheme like that? Surely it is the time when we should have assurances from the Minister that that sort of thing is to be considered.

This whole problem of the provision of electricity is a great responsibility of the Minister's. I think we have made it quite clear to him that although we should prefer to have a Socialist Minister handling this important matter we are inclined to prefer him to some extent rather than some of his colleagues whom I will not name. The whole importance of this matter arises in one or two other ways. I did not take part in the discussion of the Electricity Reorganisation (Scotland) Bill. I have no desire to speak too often in the House, and I felt that that was a matter on which the Members more keenly interested should take part. I am surprised to see the hon. Member for Kidderminster agreeing with me be cause Kidderminster is not in Scotland, but the hon. Member spoke at some length.

It will be remembered that we are now dealing in this Bill, as I understand it, with the two southern areas in Scotland and the sum of £70 million which has already been voted. That is my understanding from consideration of the Second Reading—

The provision for Scotland, which would otherwise have been required for the South of Scotland, has been excluded from the Bill.

Then I certainly misunderstood the Minister's statement, unless the Parliamentary Secretary has misunderstood it, in which case the matter can no doubt be put right in another place.

I revert to Lancashire. When we consider electricity needs there are certain other considerations. It is perhaps the major planning problem of our day because the question of industrial power is a vital problem and the question of coal production is also a vital problem. Here again, we come to the essential dilemma which faces us in discussing this matter. The right hon. Gentleman, in his Second Reading speech, referred in some detail to the various purposes from which electricity could be used. Some would mean a great increase in coal consumption: some would mean a diminution in coal consumption. The project of electrifying the railways would clearly mean a diminution in coal consumption. Some additional coal would be required to supply the increased demand for electric current but there would be eliminated the coal which the railways at present consume.

The problem of coal consumption is the vital one which the Minister has to face—it is a grave and difficult problem. The nationalisation of coal has been an outstanding success. The greater production at the coalface has gone up steadily, the provisions for safety have increased and relations in the industry have undoubtedly improved. The question of recruitment remains the problem. I am quite sure the Minister will say that if he could put 100,000 more men in the mines constructively he would be very happy to do so. It would be the biggest contribution to our export trade and industrial prosperity that could be made.

We have to bear in mind, in planning electrical development and investment in electricity, the whole problem of how far we shall be able to maintain or increase coal productivity and the sort of economies which we shall be able to effect. I understood the Minister to say and one of my hon. Friends, I think the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) in a most interesting and constructive speech on the Second Reading, showed us that economy in the utilisation of coal in relation to electricity and gas had improved very considerably over the years, that we were each year producing more electricity and gas from each unit of coal, and that the confident prophecies of the industrial experts showed that that would certainly steadily increase until about 1960.

3.15 p.m.

That is all to the good. It seems to me, therefore, that we are to have an expenditure on electricity alone of £700 million. However the Minister puts it, and however much he says, "Well, this is not an immediate expenditure," it is clear that it is envisaged that over a period that borrowing power can be reached; and therefore we can have the British Electricity Authority borrowing a grand total of £1,400 million. That is a stupendous figure. We are sometimes inclined in the House to dismiss these astronomical figures too lightly and without sufficient consideration. I frankly admit that I find them beyond my comprehension, particularly when I look at the lodging terms which are now being negotiated.

A sum of £1,400 million may be out, guaranteed by the Treasury, for electrical development. I am sure that in those circumstances the Minister will think fit to give us some indication of the type of balance he desires to provide; the type of balance he intends to produce; how much of it is to be allocated to industrial productivity and the planning of increased production.

I wish to say a word or two about increased production. Speaking, for instance, of the cotton industry, or of the pottery industry, I would emphasise that we are up against a major problem of the gravest possible kind. I do not know quite how we are to get over it. If we are to achieve the maximum productivity in our cotton spinning mills, and in our pottery industry, it means that we must completely re-plan the industry. We must build new towns and lay them out upon a system which would enable us to run our productivity in the same way as other countries, Australia for instance, where there is ample land; instead of the present system in the pottery industry, where a man carries on a plank on his head hundreds of valuable pots upstairs, downstairs, round corners and through foundries, and so on, until he comes to the place where they have to be delivered. Those are problems which the Minister must consider.

I wish now to come to my second point. I have said this before, but not in connection with this Bill, and so I am not repeating myself. Some time ago we had a Committee upstairs which discussed delegated legislation. This is delegated legislation of a different kind. This is not a Statutory Instrument, it is a Bill, but it delegates every power. It takes from this House every power of approval. It does not give to this House any power to reconsider, or at any time to consider measures taken by the Minister to implement the Bill. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Kidderminster would have moved Amendments to improve the financial burden imposed and to provide some measure of Parliamentary control.

It says that we should give general authority here and now, on this Friday afternoon, in a not very thickly attended House, for Ministers to come forward over the years with schemes for which no Parliamentary Bill would be needed. There would be a Treasury minute on the subject, for which there is no form of Parliamentary control, and the thing need never be referred to Parliament at all. A Minister might say, "Yes, we need £100 million for electricity, because we propose to electrify the main-line railway between London and Manchester." Or he might say, "We need £50 million for electricity, because there has been a development in the sale of wireless sets, due to the bastardisation of our television system." Or he might say. I am going to have a new power station built now in this particular area for the development of agriculture"—and so on. In no case need he come to the House and say, "Do you think this is right?" Or, "Do you think that is wrong?" This Bill gives to the Minister almost dictatorial powers, and I suggest that an undertaking should be given to consider the submission of major schemes to the House by Statutory Instrument for consideration and for discussion.

My third point is on the question of gas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, head] I am flattered to have these manifestations of interest from hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter which is of some importance. To many of us the suggestion that we hate to spend £250 million on the further development of the gas industry comes as a surprise. Some people have suggested, quite unfairly, that the gas industry is becoming obsolete and that there will be an increasing tendency to use electricity instead. That is not true, but in the debate on Second Reading, too little attention was given to the matter and 95 per cent. of the time was devoted to the discussion of electricity.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what he has in mind and whether or not this is largely a question of the replacement of old plants by new. Many of my hon. Friends want to discuss the more detailed aspects of the problem. We share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster on Second Reading. I cannot see how any statement made by the Minister since then has managed to quell his ardour.

My submission is that there are no adequate financial controls. In the circumstances we are all anxious to see help given to the boards of the two great nationalised industries which have done great work in developing these two essential forces of power. Without the existence of these boards full employment could not have been maintained. Between 1946 and 1950 the boards played a large part in the industrial planning of the country. The development of our electrical power was a major achievement of the Labour Government which made possible the continuation of full employment at a time when it was menaced by the coal situation and by the fact that in the years that the locusts ate before the war the Tory Party never envisaged full employment.

We are all anxious to support the Bill, but we say that that support should be given subject to Parliamentary control. Parliament should know how the money is to be spent. Parliament should be informed from time to time what are the plans and the projects to be submitted. The House should have an opportunity to debate the matter in the light of the varying needs of agriculture, industry, the household, and so on, for these essential methods of power.

I would not invite my right hon. Friends to oppose the Bill because, in the main, it is a good Bill, but I express great dubiety whether it ought to be allowed to pass without some measure of control being introduced.

We are all placed under some disadvantage by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). We were assured on Second Reading that he intended to put down some Amendments. When he was challenged today he said that he had decided not to do that because the Minister had announced that he was to appoint a committee. However, if one consults the OFFICIAL REPORT one sees that the Minister announced that he was to appoint a Committee at column 1512, while the hon. Member did not make his announcement about his desire—

The hon. and learned Gentleman must have misheard what I said in an intervention. I very clearly referred to the statement made a few days ago by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in connection with a Select Committee, accountable to this House, for the nationalised industries—not the committee of inquiry into the British Electricity Authority.

I would draw the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) to the fact that the real point made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) was that as a Committee was now to be appointed by the Government it was not necessary to amend the Bill in order to gel better Parliamentary control. However, I would also draw the attention of my hon. and learned Friend to the fact that the statement of the Lord Privy Seal excluded the subjects which have been referred to, because he said that it would be inappropriate for the Committee to consider any matters directly controlled by the Minister of Fuel and Power.

It seems clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) has said that the House has been misled by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who was going to put down an Amendment and then for some reason saw fit not to do so. The only thing about which the House is in doubt is whether this was due to the influence of the Whips or the 1922 Committee. Whichever it was, the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who always strikes but generally is afraid to wound, was absent from the battlefield. The fact that he did not know where he was earlier in the day merely explains why he did not know where he was over this matter.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Kidderminster has helped in that it has revealed the essential difference of view between the Opposition and hon. Members opposite about the Bill and about inquiries generally. The hon. Member said that he was not going to put down an Amendment relating to Parliamentary control because the nationalised industry will be controlled by the Government. The view taken by the Opposition is that the industry of the country as a whole requires to be controlled by the Government. One cannot plan merely for the nationalised section. One cannot deal with a specific sector of the nationalised industry without considering the effect generally. One of the grave disadvantages of the Bill is that the borrowing powers are in no way coordinated, as the Opposition understand it, to the resources of the country as a whole.

A late Member of the House, Mr. Arthur Greenwood, whose death we all lament, once said—it aroused laughter—that pounds, shilling and pence were often meaningless symbols. They are in that it is no use voting money for a certain purpose unless there is available material which can be purchased with that money.

Under these proposals there is to be expansion—it is a very necessary thing—of the capital resources of the electricity and gas industries. Four or five years ago we discussed this matter in relation to some power stations on the Thames. One of the essential materials for power stations is bricks, and one of the reasons the electricity programme was held up for a considerable time was the shortage of bricks.

I do not know whether we shall have a statement from the Minister about the physical resources which will be available. I do not know how many bricks are available at the moment for building power stations. However, I do know that the Hornchurch Urban District Council has more than 2 million bricks on order for building council houses but cannot get delivery of them. If we cannot get bricks for council houses, will the Minister be able to get them for power stations? Will he cut down on the private house-building sector? Will private houses have priority over his power stations? We ought to have answers to these questions before we authorise the borrowing of these large sums of money.

The Opposition are in favour of the principle of making money available, but we are very properly concerned as to whether the materials to be bought with the money will be available. It would be useless and a mockery to pass a Bill to enable borrowing to take place if we could not obtain the raw materials required for the capital development for which purpose the borrowing was authorised.

3.30 p.m.

I hope the Minister will deal with the point in more detail in order to give us some idea of what are the raw materials which will be required for the type of capital development which he has in mind. He could tell us, first of all, how much building material will be required to carry out this programme. The Minister need not be too particular about the details, but we want some general idea of the building facilities that will be required.

Next, will he make certain that the required labour will be available? He began his speech, very properly from the party point of view, by pointing out that more people are engaged in such employment than had ever previously been employed. That is an excellent thing, but when we come to consider the measure of full employment we should remember that we produce an inflationary situation if we insist on capital development without, at the same time, checking some other form of development in order to make sure that we get the capital development which we require.

It is quite clear that we require this capital development in these industries most urgently, and I cannot do better than refer the House to what the Minister himself said during the Second Reading debate. He said:
"I should like to say that on this subject it is indeed a sobering thought that the United States, with three times our population, has an annual increase in electrical consumption 10 times as great as ours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 2511.]
That is a continuing situation, and if in fact this great access of power—and the more power we get, the cheaper it is—is available to American industry, we shall soon be in a position in which our industry is unable to compete with that of the United States. Obviously, therefore, we must do all we possibly can to put as much horse-power behind the arm of the man who works in Britain as there is behind the arm of the man who works in America.

I get a little tired of people who say, "Oh, but look what short hours our people work." It is not a question of how short a period people work or, on the other hand, of what wages they are paid, which determines the price of the product; it is the amount of power behind the men who do the work. Nobody works harder or works longer hours than those men who make roads in the Far East and carry on their heads small quantities of earth and stones in wicker baskets. These are the people who excavate in a day's work about one cubic yard of earth, but, provided that one has sufficient horse-power and a modern machine, one can remove in one scoop five cubic metres of earth at a time.

The same point was made by the Minister himself at an earlier stage in his speech, when, describing the difference between the coal industry and the gas, electricity and oil industries, he said:
"The characteristic feature of the coal industry—and I know that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) will support me in this—is that on the change of shift at a large mine there are to be seen hundreds of men streaming away from the pithead, whereas when one visits the installations of the other three industries, one is struck by the control system of what I might call the room with the hundred dials. Two or three men are inspecting the elaborate control panels which register the revolutions of the mighty turbines or the flow of hot gases through gigantic retorts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th July,1954: Vol. 529, c. 2508.]

Hon. Members may cheer, but they seem to have failed singularly to act on the implications of the Minister's words.

If those words describe a highly desirable state of affairs, we have a public duty to invest as much in our industries as does the United States. In the coal industry the criticism is not of the men who work in the pits, unless it is the criticism that comes from the less experienced back benchers; it is criticism of the private enterprise which left the coal pits in that sort of state.

I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works is not here. I understand that he is in charge of ancient monuments, which have to be preserved, not for industrial purposes, but other purposes. There are immense numbers of gasworks which might be regarded as ancient monuments showing the evils of the monopoly system. Each of them had a franchise for gas in a particular area, and consumers had to take that gas or no gas at all. That was particularly so with such a gasworks as that at Romford.

It is not for me to apportion blame among the capitalists, but the present position may well be due to the failure of the City of London to provide money for the smaller gasworks unless they were prepared to surrender their independence. We all remember the way in which the City of London treated the great steel works in Wales, being in favour of closing it down because it did not pay its full profit over to the shareholders.

I want to get from the Minister some understanding about the capital development involved. From where are we to get our raw materials? That is a controversial way of saying it. Will the Minister tell us when he replies exactly the position in regard to the supply of steel and other materials required for the electrical industry? If the Minister cannot deal with matters of policy—probably nobody on the Government Front Bench is in a position to do that—he can deal with points of detail. How far are the electrical and gas industries directly in competition with the defence programme? Are those industries and the defence programme competing for the same materials, or are there two streams from which they draw? If we considerably increased the development of the gas and electrical industries, would we come into conflict with the defence programme?

When we discussed this matter on Second Reading, the Minister mentioned. I think I am right in saying—I have not found the actual passage in his speech—the three things steel, bricks and machine tools. I may have taken that passage from another very well-informed speech, perhaps from that of the hon. Member for Kidderminster.

What does one need in order to construct a factory or an electricity or gas works? Once one has constructed them, one has to consider the question of what fuel is to be used. In regard to that, the right hon. Gentleman did discuss a number of possibilities about which I think he ought to tell us a little more when he replies. There is an argument for giving this amount of development to the electrical industry, because he said that we are hoping to develop atomic power, and that with such development the electrical network would be used for the distribution of atomic energy.

But with great respect, this begs the whole question that we are up against, because, in the next breath, he said that of course if we develop atomic energy we shall require immense capital expenditure. It is not only the money involved. The Minister is, in fact, saying that he is going to build a larger electrical network because it will be supplied by atomic energy. At the same time, he is saying that this atomic energy plant will itself be in competition with defence for the raw materials which are already in scarce supply.

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman comes to his next point, I would point out that we are really allowed to discuss only what is in the Clause.

With great respect. Sir Charles, I was basing myself on exactly what the Minister was saying on Second Reading.

We are on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and we can only discuss what is in the Clause.

The argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman was, of course, in defence of what was in the Clause because, for all practical purposes, the Clause is the whole of the Bill. The argument which the Minister advanced for requiring to spend this sum of money on the electricity industry was, first, that there would be a development of atomic power, and that because of that we should need to have a larger electrical network. The Minister shakes his head, but that is in fact what he said. He said:

"From the point of view of our discussion today, it is important to realise that the nuclear power stations will be very expensive in their actual construction, although, of course, they will use no conventional fuels and their own fuel costs will probably be reasonably low."
A little earlier he said:
"We should remember, therefore, that in expanding this industry we are preparing the way for atomic power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th July, 1954 Vol. 529, c. 2513.]
So the argument devoted to this Clause was that one of the three reasons for dealing with the matter in this way was the wish to expand atomic energy.

The only point I wanted to put was this point, in view of what the Minister said about the great demand for raw materials for the atomic plant. He apparently thinks that without any sort of control he can provide the necessary raw materials for such a plant, in addition to expanding the electricity and coal industries and meeting the needs of the defence programme at the same time. That is the point which we hope he will answer.

When the Minister came to the development of the gas industry, he raised a very considerable point which I hope he will develop a little further. He said that one of the reasons for expanding the gas industry was that we should use natural gas. In these circumstances, I hope that when he replies he will deal with this aspect of the matter.

Finally, he dealt with the question of the importation of oil fuel. I should have thought that it was more important to concentrate upon the development of the coal industry than to put too much emphasis on the importation of oil. We have been told that we cannot cut defence expenditure, and why should we therefore place ourselves in the position of being dependent upon the importation of oil? I agree that there should be a geological survey to see what oil we can obtain here, but that is a different matter from making ourselves dependent on supplies of oil from outside this country.

3.45 p.m.

The Committee will have gathered that my hon. Friends have a great enthusiasm for the Bill. We welcome the expansion of these industries and congratulate the Minister on having stood up to the back bench opposition from his own party which existed in the House on Second Reading last week.

I am a little disappointed that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) should be so easily satisfied. As an ex-Leader of the House, I can say that I wish my back benchers had been as ready to accept everything I said as he has been to accept what the Lord Privy Seal said. My life would have been much easier.

I was rather surprised at the support which the hon. Member gave to the proposal for using oil as a fuel for this industry, for I have supported him in his view that to take trolley buses off the roads and replace them by omnibuses might well be disastrous to transport in the event of our being engaged in another war. To put the electrical industry increasingly upon the basis of being fired by imported fuel is so important a deviation from policy and from all the ideas of connecting this matter with defence that I hope the Minister will give it very serious consideration before he goes any further with it.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about that in his reply and I also hope that the Government will get the Bill this afternoon because we do not wish to stand in the way of its becoming an Act.

I was not called to the House by telephone today. If the hon. Member wishes me to dilate upon that matter, it might result in the Government not getting the Bill, which from our point of view would be a disaster.

I hope the Minister will have some regard to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham. West (Mr. Hale) about the power of control after the Bill has been passed.

On Second Reading the Bill was warmly welcomed by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) from the Opposition Front Bench and we are very glad and grateful that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has welcomed the principal Clause in Committee.

He asked my right hon. Friend about the importation of oil and the way in which it fits into the General defence scheme. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to focus his attention upon what my right hon. Friend said. My right hon. Friend did not say that arrangements were forthwith being made for turning power stations over to oil burning. He said that arrangements would be made, subject to their being considered satisfactory from various points of view, to enable dual-firing to take place so that the power station in question will be able to operate either upon coal or oil, whichever in the circumstances of the time was the more economic or expedient or satisfactory to work upon. I think that explanation will probably cover the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety.

We have had a remarkably full debate covering a wide variety of points, and the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has not left me very long in which to reply. But there are certain things which I rather wish to say, particularly in reply to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) who delivered, strangely enough, a rather violent, slashing and stringent criticism upon the dictatorial powers—that was the expression of which I made a note—which were vested in the Minister, and demanded that, prior to the exercise of these powers, my right hon. Friend should come to the House of Commons to obtain the consent of the House.

But the powers to which he refers are those which were inserted in the 1947 Act by the Government of which he was a supporter. The whole of the hon. Gentleman's virulent attack was really directed to the 1947 Act, because the only things which we are proposing to change in the 1947 Act—and this in substance is the focus of the whole of this Bill—are the two words representing the figures of the borrowing powers.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will permit me to remind him that we on these benches have always asked for Parliamentary control of nationalised industries, and I have always supported that. For an example of Parliamentary tergiversation, the hon. Gentleman might read his own speech on the Isle of Man Customs Bill, 1946, and compare it with what he supported today.

I thought I made rather a good speech in 1946.

On the subject of railway electrification, I think the position has been made quite clear. It is not my right hon. Friend's responsibility to electrify the railways, nor is the electrification of the railways a subject matter to be dealt with under this Bill. My right hon. Friend's responsibility, so far as this Bill is concerned, is to see that adequate money is available for the provision of current in the event of a decision being taken elsewhere to electrify the railways.

I should like to give some word of explanation, in response to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, on the subject of raw materials and so forth. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman could have appreciated what my right hon. Friend and I meant on Second Reading when we were referring to the programmes which came to us for review. They are exceedingly detailed, very comprehensive and substantial in every way, and consideration of those programmes must of necessity take into account the possibility of their being carried out. Rut I would draw attention to the fact that we are not at present in such a state of economic stringency as we used to be, and therefore there are not the same shortages as there were.

That brings me to the end of the points to which I have the opportunity to reply. Bearing in mind that this is an overflow debate, with the background of the Second Reading behind it, I hope that the Committee will be good enough to let us have the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported without Amendment.

We want the Minister to have his Bill, but will he bear in mind the expansion of agriculture and the necessity for the expansion of industrial refrigeration for food in connection with civil defence?

I will certainly consider both points. Following my conference with the British Electricity Authority last year, there has been a notable increase in the rate of rural electrification.

The Patronage Secretary is here and he must realise that if he wants to get his business he should treat the House better—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is a disgraceful state of affairs when the Closure is moved, as it was moved earlier on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), who had waited all day to make a reply for the Opposition on a most important Measure. If the Patronage Secretary persists in that kind of behaviour, it must be made clear to him that he will have the greatest difficulty in getting any business through.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.