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Gas Regulation Bill

Volume 41: debated on Monday 26 July 1920

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Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.— (The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to substitute new basis of charges.

(4) An order under this section—

(b) shall require the undertakers, in the case of alteration in the declared calorific value, to take at their own expense such steps as may be necessary to alter, adjust, or replace the burners in consumers' appliances in such manner as to secure that the gas can be burned with safety and efficiency, except in the case of any consumer who objects to such alteration, adjustment, or replacement by the undertakers; and

(6) Before making any order under this section, the Board of Trade shall where the order is made on the application of undertakers require the undertakers to give and in any other case shall themselves give public notice in the London or Edinburgh or Dublin Gazette as the case may, be in such other manner as the Board may consider best adapted for informing persons affected, of the application for or proposal to make an order, and of the maximum or standard price pertherm proposed, and as to the manner in which and time, within which objections may be made, and shall consider any objection which may be duly made, and shall, where they think it expedient to do so, cause an inquiry to be held. The notice to be given under this section shall include notice to the Common Council of the City of London and to the Council of any county borough or urban or rural district within which any part of the undertaking or the limits of supply of the undertaking is situate.

moved, in paragraph (b) of subsection 4, after "burners," to insert "service pipes and meters." The noble Earl said: I should like to explain that this Amendment, and the following Amendments which appear on the Paper in my name, have been put down at the request of the Association of Local Authorities. That Association inform me that they are of opinion that this Bill will inflict hardships in one or two instances upon consumers of gas. These Amendments were not moved when the Bill was under discussion in Committee in another place. Apparently they came on sooner than was expected, and the mover not being in his place, no chance was given of moving them at a subsequent stage, as the Bill was. completed in one day—namely, June 29. Therefore, there is a special duty on us to consider these particular Amendments, as they deal with what, I think, are important points.

If this Amendment were adopted, the subsection would read "replace the burners, service pipes and meters." The practice at present generally is that service pipes and meters—service pipes particularly—are not supplied by the undertaker, but, although that is the case, this Bill is promoted for the benefit of the gas undertakers. Clause 1 states that the Board of Trade may, on the application of any gas undertakers, provide for the repeal of any enactments or other provisions requiring the undertakers to supply gas of any particular illuminating or calorific value, and for substituting power to charge for thermal units supplied in the form of gas. If the change which is contempleted is carried out it will not only involve an alteration of the mains, but it will also mean that every consumer has to put in new service pipes and new meters, because the large volume of gas that will be required will necessitate larger meters and larger pipes.

It is felt by the Association who asked me to move these Amendments that if that change is to be made for the benefit of the gas undertakers, the expense of altering the pipes and meters ought not to be allowed to fall upon the consumer. Since I came to the House this afternoon I understand that it is not only the body which I have mentioned that is anxious to see these changes carried out in the Bill, but the railways which are, I imagine, the largest gas consumers in the country, also desire to see this change. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able to accept my Amendment so as to prevent this extra charge falling upon consumers of gas in this country.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 24, after ("burners") insert ("service pipes and meters").—(Earl Grey.)

I fully recognise the importance of the interests which the noble Lord is representing, but I hope he will not press this Amendment, because I believe it is unnecessary. I feel sure, when I have given my noble friend the reason, he will see that there can be no object in inserting the Amendment in the Bill. An extension of the obligations of the undertakers to replace service pipes and meters would involve possibilities of endless litigation, and would create an undefined liability upon the undertaker. It would be extremely difficult to determine whether the fact that the meter is too small was due to an alteration in the quality of the gas or to the number of appliances used on the premises. The same kind of consideration would apply in the case of service pipes. The Bill already provides, in Clause 2, subsection (2) that the minimum permissible pressure shall be such pressure in any main, or any pipe laid between the main and the meter having an internal diameter of 2 inches and upwards, as to balance a column of water not less than 2 inches in height. The Board is empowered to prescribe a different pressure in particular cases. These provisions, I think, should be enough to ensure that the consumer receives an adequate supply of heat units, which is the object of the Bill. That object is secured without the Amendment that the noble Earl is bringing forward on this occasion.

I cannot pretend that I am convinced by the noble Lord's reply. He says that to throw the obligation of supplying larger pipes and meters upon the undertakers would be to cause a great amount of litigation. I do not quite see why. If the Bill is left as it is, the power which the authority has in Clause 2 to make special Regulations to meet special conditions would protect the undertaker. It seems to me, from the consumers point of view, that it would be a far more straightforward thing to have my Amendment in the Bill than to rely upon the willingness of the Board of Trade to make the special Regulations which the noble Lord suggests. In any case I would point out that there are Amendments on the Paper that deal with the very provision to which the noble Lord has referred. I do not know whether the noble Lord would be able to hold out any hope of reconsidering this on Report if no further action were taken now, but, failing that, I am afraid that I shall be inclined to ask your Lordships to go to a Division if I can see that I shall get adequate support.

I am informed that there is no real substance in the contention which the noble Lord is putting forward, but I shall most certainly re-consider the matter, and ask my advisers before the Report State. If I come to the conclusion that there is some substance in the Amendment, I will put it down on Report.

We are much obliged to the noble Marquess, and no doubt he will give us favourable consideration before the future stage. One thing that occurs to me is that possibly the requirements of Clause 2 may not be so effective for the purpose of the noble Earl who moves this Amendment as the noble Marquess imagines, because they only apply where an Order under this Act has been made affecting any undertakers. It is not quite clear, from an examination of the Bill, how often that will have happened. Therefore, we do not quite know what security will be forthcoming when no such Order has been made. Perhaps the noble Marquess will kindly give that his consideration.

This is a highly technical matter, and I do not feel that I can deal with it with any confidence. But the only representation made to me was made by an important body, the Federation of Employers, and it is against this Amendment. They assure me that the consumers are amply safeguarded without this particular Amendment, and that if it were to be inserted it would go far beyond any recommendation of the Fuel Research Committee. It is represented to me that it is unnecessary, because if gas of such a quality were supplied it could not be burnt with safety and efficiency by an alteration or adjustment of the burners, and that if the undertakers did supply such a quality of gas they would, under the Bill as it stands, have either to improve the quality of the gas or to incur a very serious penalty. So far as I can understand the arguments which I have heard, the balance is against the contention of this Amendment, and I should certainly support the Government in not accepting it.

I am very sorry to hear what has fallen from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, because I am advised by the railway experts on this very technical point that it is one on which they are of opinion that after further consideration some concession may be made on behalf of the Government. Therefore, if the noble Marquess would, as he suggests, reconsider this on Report, and also the other Amendments that stand in the name of Lord Grey, I think it would be a very satisfactory course.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

moved, in subsection (6), to leave out the words "Common Council of the City of London and to the council of any county borough or urban or rural district within which any part of the undertaking or the limits of supply of the undertaking is situate." The noble Marquess said: This is a drafting Amendment. The term "local authority" is defined in Clause 16.

Amendment moved—

Page 3, line 20, leave out from ("the") to the end of subsection (6) and insert ("local authority").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

The Amendments in my name on Clause 2 are in the same category as that which I proposed, and afterwards withdrew, on Clause 1. Therefore, I do not move.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4:

Appointment of gas referees and examiners.

(4) Where no gas examiner is appointed by the local authority, or where the testing of gas is imperfectly attended to, two justices, on the application of not less than five consumers, may appoint a competent and impartial person to act as gas examiner, who shall have the same powers and perform the same duties as if he were appointed by the local authority, and the remuneration and expenses of the gas examiner up to an amount approved by the justices, shall be paid by the local authority.

moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "two justices" and insert "quarter sessions." The noble Marquess said: It is considered that the power to appoint a gas examiner, and to fix his remuneration, should like with quarter sessions rather than with two justices.

Amendment moved:—

Page 5, line 30, leave out ("two justices") and insert ("quarter sessions").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendment moved:—

Page 5, line 35, leave out ("the justices") and insert ("quarter sessions").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5:

Power to prescribe tests.

5.—(1) The gas referees shall prescribe—

  • (a) the places and times at which and the apparatus and method by which tests, whether continuous or intermittent, shall be made to ascertain whether any undertakers with respect to whom an Order has been made under this Act are supplying gas in accordance with their obligations; and
  • (b) the method by which any such apparatus shall be verified; and
  • (c) the time and form of the reports to be made by the gas examiner to the gas referees and the local authority or justices by whom he is appointed, and to the undertakers, and the means by which the results of the tests shall be made available to the public:
  • moved, in subsection (1) (c), to leave out "justices" and insert. "quarter sessions." The noble Marquess said: That raises the same point as the previous Amendments to the clause.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 6, line 8, leave out ("justices") and insert ("quarter sessions").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 6 agreed to.

    Clause 7:

    Remuneration and expenses of gas referees.

    (3) Any undertakers with respect to whom an order under this Act has been made, shall, on or before the first day of April in the following year, pay to a fund (to be, called the gas fund) a contribution not being at the rate of more than fifteen pounds for each one hundred million cubic feet of gas so sold by them, and the Treasury may determine that that fund shall be a public fund within the meaning of the Superannuation Act, 1892.

    Amendments moved—

    Page 8, line 10, leave out ("the following") and insert ("each")

    Page 8,line 12, leave out ("fifteen pounds") and insert ("three shillings") and leave out ("one hundred")

    Page 8,lines 12 and 13, leave out ("so sold by-them") and insert ("sold by them in the preceding year").— (The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendments agreed to.

    Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 8 agreed to.

    Clause 9:

    Forefeiture for deficient calorific value, etc.

    (5) Proceedings against the undertakers in-respect of any forfeiture incurred under this Act may be commenced at any time within three months after the date of the report of the gas examiner, or after the date of the report of the chief gas examiner on appeal, or, in the event of the undertakers duly appealing to the chief gas examiner and withdrawing the appeal, within, six months after the date of the receipt of notice of such withdrawal.

    moved, in subsection (5) to leave out "six" and insert "three." The noble Marquess said: It was originally proposed to allow a period of six months within, which proceedings might be taken, but the period has been reduced to three months, and this accordingly is. consequential.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 10, line 33, leave out ("six") and insert ("three")—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 10:

    Power to make special orders.

    (2) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by this section the Board of Trade may, by any such special order—

  • (a) empower any undertakers to obtain a supply of gas in bulk from any source whether situated within or without their authorised limits of supply:
  • (b) empower any undertakers to give a separate supply of gas for industrial purposes within their authorised limits of supply:
  • (c) authorise arrangements for the joint working or amalgamation of undertakings, including necessary provisions with regard to the capital of the combined undertaking, the vesting in the combined undertaking of the property and rights of the amalgamated undertaking, and other necessary incidents and consequences of amalgamation or joint working:
  • (d) authorise the establishment of superannuation pension and other like funds:
  • (e) authorise the raising of capital or the borrowing of money for any of the purposes aforesaid:
  • (f) make provision for the purchase or redemption (out of revenue or otherwise) and cancellation of debentures, debenture stock, mortgages or bonds, or of obsolete or unproductive capital, or capital not represented by available assets:
  • (g) modify or amend the provisions of any special Act or other provision relating to the undertaking affected by the special order as may be necessary to provide for thy proper and efficient conduct of the undertaking.
  • moved, after paragraph (b) of subsection (2) to insert the following new paragraph:

    '(c) authorise any local authority which may be authorised to supply gas within its area to supply gas outside that area in any district or part thereof not supplied with gas by another authority or company."
    The noble Marquess said: I am proposing this in a little different form from that in which it appears on the Paper, owing to representations which have been made to me. This covers the case of a local authority which may acquire a gas company and not have an order for supplying gas.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 11, after line 24, insert the said new paragraph.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    I hope your Lordships will allow me to thank the noble Marquess for these new words, which are my suggestion. I think they are better than the words originally put down.

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, in subsection (2) (c), after "authorised arrangements for the," to insert "purchase by agreement." The noble Marquess said: This Amendment is proposed to meet representations which have been made to the Board of Trade that in certain cases the purchase of an undertaking outright may be a better course than amalgamation; for example, where a large undertaking acquires a small one. I think the Amendment is an obvious one, and I beg to move.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 11, line 25, after ("the") insert ("purchase by agreement").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved to omit from subsection (2) (c) the words "in the combined undertaking." The noble Marquess said: This, my Lords, is a drafting Amendment. The words proposed to be left out are unnecessary.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 11, line 28, leave out ("in the combined undertaking.")—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, in subsection (2) (c), before "amalgamated undertakings," to insert "purchased or." The noble Marquess said: This is consequential.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 11, line 29, after the second ("the") insert ("purchased or").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, in subsection (2) (c), before "amalgamation or joint working," at the end of the paragraph, to insert "purchase." The noble Marquess said: This also is consequential.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 11, line 31, after ("of") insert ("purchase").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, at the end of subsection (2), to insert the following new paragraph:—

    "(b) Make such supplemental and consequential provisions as appear necessary to give full effect to the order."

    The noble Marquess said: It is thought that express power should be taken to make the necessary supplemental and consequential provisions in an Order. There is a similar power in Clause 1 (4) (d) as regards Orders made under that clause.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 12, after line 4, insert the said new paragraph.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    had an Amendment on the Paper altering subsection (4) to read as follows—

    " (4) Before any Special Order under this Act is made, it shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament, and such order shall not be made unless both Houses, by resolution, approve the draft either without modification or addition, or with modifications or additions to which both Houses agree, but upon such approval being given the Board of Trade may make the order in the form in which it has been approved, and the order on being so made shall be of full force and effect."
    The noble Marquess said: Representations have been made to the Board of Trade that the procedure proposed by the Amendment is more in accordance with precedent in respect of special Orders of the nature contemplated under the clause than that contained in the Bill. The Amendment is on the lines of the similar provision in the Government of India Act, 1919.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 12, line 9, leave out from ("Act") to the end of subsection (4) and insert (is made, it shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament, and such order shall not be made unless both Houses, by resolution, approve the draft either without modification or addition, or with modifications or additions to which both Houses agree, but upon such approval being given the Board of Trade may make the order in the form in which it has been approved, and the order on being so made shall be of full force and effect".—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, at the end of the clause, to insert the following new subsection:—

    "(5) For the purposes of any Act of Parliament, whether passed before or after this Act, which refers directly or indirectly to a special Act conferring powers on gas undertakers, a special order under this Act shall be deemed to be a special Act."
    The noble Marquess said: This is in the nature of a drafting amendment. It is required in order to make it clear that undertakers authorised by special Orders are to be under the same obligation as if they were authorised by special Acts.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 12, after line 15, insert the said new subsection.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

    Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.

    moved, after clause 12, to insert the following new clause:—

    Meters to be stamped.

    "All meters by means of which gas is supplied by any undertakers to any consumer shall be stamped in accordance with regulations made by the Board of Trade under their powers in that behalf, and if any undertakers supply gas by means of any meter which is not so stamped, they shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds."

    The noble Marquess said: In a very few cases it is believed that unstamped meters are still in use, and it is very desirable in the interests of consumers that the use of such meters should be prohibited. A stamped meter gives a guarantee that it is a correct one, and so I feel that this Amendment will be accepted.

    Amendment moved—

    After Clause 12, insert the said new clause.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, after the clause just inserted, to insert the following new clause:—

    Qualification for appointment as inspector of meters.

    (1) The Board of Trade shall provide for the holding of examinations for the purpose of ascertaining whether applicants for the post of inspector of meters under section four of the Sale of Gas Act, 1859, nominated by the appointing authority possess sufficient practical knowledge for the proper performance of the duties of that post, and for the grant of certificates to persons who satisfactorily pass such examination.

    (2) A person shall not, after the passing of this Act, be appointed to act as an inspector of meters as aforesaid unless he has obtained such certificate as aforesaid.

    (3) If any person, not being an inspector duly appointed under the Sale of Gas Act, 1859, acts as such inspector, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent offence, twenty pounds.

    (4) There shall be charged in respect of the examinations under this section such fees as the Board of Trade, with the concurrence of the Treasury, from time to time fix, and all such fees shall be dealt with in such manner as the Treasury from time to time direct.

    The noble Marquess said: The object here is to put applicants for the post of inspector of gas meters under similar conditions as regards the certificate of competency to those imposed by the Weights and Measures Acts in the case of inspectors of weights and measures. The Board of Trade have been asked by a recent conference of the Association of Gas Meter Inspectors, local authorities, the Institution of Gas Engineers, and the Society of British Gas Industries to insert a clause to this effect, and it is in response to their representations that the clause is being inserted.

    Amendment moved—.

    After the clause last inserted, insert the said new clause.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clauses 13 to 15 agreed to.

    Clause 16:

    Definitions.

    16.For the purposes of this Act—

    The expression "local authority" means the common council of the City of London and any county, borough, or urban district council, and in relation to any gas undertaking means any such local authority the whole or any part of whose area is within or partly within the limits of supply of the undertakers;
    The expression "gas undertakers" or "undertakers" means any local authority, company, body or person authorised to supply gas by any Act of Parliament, or any order having the force of an Act of Parliament.

    Moved, in the definition of "local authority," to insert "county borough" instead of "borough." The noble Marquess said: As it stands, the clause might be held to include Metropolitan Borough Councils. They do not want to be included, as the London County Council carries out the work of gas testing in London.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 13, line 32, after ("county,") insert ("county").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 13, line 40, at end insert:
    ("The expression 'quarter sessions' in relation to any undertaking means the court of quarter sessions for the county, division or place in which the gasworks of the undertaking are situate").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

    Clauses 17 and 18 agreed to.

    Clause 19;

    Application to Scotland and Ireland.

    19.—(1) In the application of this Act to Scotland references to the sheriff shall be substituted for references to "two justices" or to "justices," the expression "local authority" means the county council and the town council, and the expenses of a local authority under this Act shall be defrayed, in the case of a county council, out of the general purposes rate, provided that, notwithstanding anything in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, the ratepayers of any police burgh shall not be assessed by the county council for any such expenses, and in the case of a town council out of the burgh general assessment or police rate.

    (2) In the application of this Act to Ireland a reference to the Public Health (Ireland) Acts, 1878, to 1919, shall be substituted for the reference to the Public Health Acts, 1875 to 1908.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 14, line 18, lease out ("two justices or to justices") and insert ("quarter sessions").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    moved, at the end of the clause, to insert: "and the expenses of a county council shall be defrayed out of the county fund and raised as a district charge or district charges over any county district or districts which are wholly or partly within the limits of supply of any gas undertakers in respect of which the county council have power to appoint a gas examiner." The noble Marquess said: This is an Amendment which has been asked for by the Irish Office. Expenses of county councils in England and Scotland are provided for in Clauses 13 and 19 (1).

    Amendment moved—

    Page 14, line 30, at end insert the said words.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 20, agreed to.

    Schedule agreed to.