Oral Answers to Questions — South East Scotland Electricity Board (Chairman's Speech)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1953.

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Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East 12:00 am, 7th December 1953

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether his attention has been drawn to the speech, of which details have been sent to him, made by the chairman of the South East Scotland Electricity Board to the Dunfermline Rotarians on 26th November, 1953, in which he discussed and appeared to disclose the principles of the proposed Government Bill to deal with the reorganisation of the electricity industry in Scotland, and in which he also expressed strong personal views in relation to controversial matters connected therewith; and what steps he takes to prevent senior officials in nationalised industries who have been consulted in connection with the contents of a proposed Bill from discussing the contents thereof in public before the Bill has been laid before Parliament.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

The Bill to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers is still in course of preparation. My right hon. Friend has seen reports of the speech made by the chairman of the South East Scotland Electricity Board and has discussed it with him. The views he expressed in that speech have for a long time been the subject of discussion in the industry and it must not be assumed that they were based on the consultations which had taken place on technical matters relating to the Bill.

The conventions and requirements concerning the discussion in public of the subject matter of Bills before they have been laid before Parliament are, I think, generally well understood, and my right hon. Friend does not consider it necessary to take further steps in this regard.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

Without making any assumptions as to the source from which the chairman received his knowledge, may I ask whether we can get a categorical answer as to whether this gentleman was consulted about the proposed contents of the Bill? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the speech contained reference to many points of detail, which could be known only to a person who was intimately connected with the preparation of such a Bill?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

As I said in my reply, the chairman of the Board was consulted in the early stages with regard to technical details, but the subject matter of his speech covered a very wide variety of matters, most of which are of considerable interest in Scottish discussion.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

Then may we take it that the Minister approves of the procedure whereby a person who is consulted in relation to the contents of a Bill which has not been laid before Parliament should make a speech in public in which he discusses those proposed contents?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is attributing to me a suggestion which I did not make.

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

Is the chairman of the South East Scotland Electricity Board a civil servant? If not, is there any reason why he should not make a pronouncement upon a matter which is connected with this industry and which was outlined in the Gracious Speech a few weeks ago?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

The chairman is certainly not a civil servant. The extent to which he speaks is a matter for his discretion.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham South

Is not the hon. Gentleman's last statement a very serious one? Is he laying down that a gentleman who is consulted and properly consulted, by the Department in the preparation of a Bill, which Parliament has not seen, is free to divulge what he likes, within his discretion, about the contents of the Bill?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

No, Sir. I certainly do not consider that my reply gave any such indication.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to disclosing the proposed contents of the Bill, the chairman of the Board made a speech of a political nature in which he made various criticisms of the nationalised industries? Does the Minister approve of that procedure from chairmen of nationalised boards?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

Perhaps I may refer to my original reply, in which I made it clear that it must not be assumed that the statements made by the chairman of this Board were based on the consultations which had taken place on the technical matters.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

On a point of order. In view of the disclosure made by the Parliamentary Secretary in his answer, that this speech was made by a gentleman who was consulted about the proposed contents of the Bill, does it not amount to a breach of Privilege that such disclosure should be made about the proposed contents of a Bill by a person who was consulted by the Department before its presentation to Parliament?

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that the statements made by this chairman were common knowledge and had been generally discussed by the electricity industry throughout the country?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

In answer to the point of order put by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley), there is no point of Privilege here. There seems to be a dispute as to what actually happened, but no question of Privilege arises.