HC Deb 18 March 1828 vol 18 cc1177-80
Sir F. Burdett

rose to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what progress had been made by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the State of the Supply of Water to the Metropolis.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that, upon a former occasion, when the same question had been put to him by the hon. baronet's colleague, he had endeavoured to give a plain and intelligible answer. He had stated, that on his return to the office which he had then the honour to fill, he had found that one of his predecessors, Mr. Sturges Bourne, had appointed a commission to inquire into the supply of water to the metropolis, and that a question had arisen as to the extent of power bestowed on the individuals appointed as commissioners under it. He had been called upon to decide that question, and his answer was, that he should be governed entirely by the view which had been taken of it by the right hon. gentleman who had appointed the commission. Upon inquiry he found that it was the opinion, not only of Mr. Sturges Bourne, but also of the marquis of Lansdowne, who had succeeded to his office, that the powers which had been conferred on the commissioners were sufficiently ample for all the objects contemplated in the commission. It gave them power to examine witnesses upon oath, and to make all such inquiries as they should deem necessary, to show the present state of the supply of water to the metropolis, and to determine its quality, quantity, description, and salubrity. A question had likewise arisen, as to whether the commissioners should have power to employ engineers to make surveys and to take levels. And he certainly was of opinion, that parliament had never contemplated any such thing when it agreed to the address for the appointment of the commission. He determined to refer to his right hon. friend, for he felt that it would be inexpedient in him either to curtail or to increase those powers beyond what was originally intended. He had been asked whether the commission was to make an analysis of the water. He had replied, that it would not be sufficient for the commission to make only one analysis of the water, they must make an analysis of it, as taken from different parts of the river, at different periods of the tide and of the year. He had also been asked whether he approved of the gentlemen who had been appointed commissioners; namely, Mr. Telford, the engineer; Dr. Roget, the physician; and Mr. Brande, the chymist; and he had expressed of them that approbation which their eminent acquirements richly deserved. As the commission had, on his return to office, been sitting for five months, he ventured to inquire whether they had made any analysis of the water, and when they would be prepared to make their report. He was told that the analysis of the water would be complete in about six weeks; and that soon afterwards they would make a report which would bring all their proceedings under the consideration of parliament. He trusted it was quite unnecessary for him to say, that he entertained no feeling upon this particular question. If parliament should think it right to have engineers employed to make surveys and to take levels, with a view of discovering from what quarter the best, purest, and most abundant, supply of water could be brought to the metropolis, nothing could be easier than to add the instruction to the address. He should reserve his opinion as to the propriety or impropriety of such a measure. He thought that, if the commissioners should be of opinion that there was not sufficient salubrity in the water of the Thames, there was that opulence, and that spirit of enterprise in the inhabitants of this great metropolis, which would induce them to form a new Water-company in order to secure a better supply of water than that which they had at present; and he frankly owned that he conceived such new company, and not the government, should be at the expense of making the requisite surveys, and taking the necessary levels. He was of opinion that it would be quite sufficient for the commission appointed by the Crown to make an analysis of the water, and to report its opinion upon the quality and quantity of the supply. He had laid upon the table of the House, the other day, a copy of the commission, and also a copy of all the correspondence to which it had given rise and he believed that, in a few days; it would be printed, and in the hands of every member. He, therefore, would take the liberty of suggesting, that it would be advisable to proceed no further in the discussion until they had the report of the commissioners. He could not, however, conclude, without expressing a hope that the House would pause before it consented to give greater powers to the commission than those it had at present.

Mr. S. Bourne

rose merely to confirm the statement of his right hon. friend. However, as he was upon his legs, he could not help expressing his surprise that the report of this commission had not been presented long ago. He thought that all that the commission had to ascertain was, whether the quality of the water now supplied to the metropolis was good, and whether its quantity was sufficient. He imagined that the labours, which they were appointed to discharge, might be discharged in so short a period that he had nearly limited in the commission the time within which they were to make their report; and he had only been prevented from so doing by a petition having been presented from Southwark, praying that the labours of the commissioners might be extended, to inquire into the supply of water on their side of the Thames. He had appointed on the commission one of the most able physicians, and one of the most eminent chymists, of the present day, in order that the public might have the benefit of the ablest opinions on the salubrity of the water; and he had added an excellent engineer to their number, in order that they might avoid the expense of employing individuals to take levels for them, and might have in their own body a gentleman who could give them the most satisfactory information upon all such matters.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that if the commission was merely appointed to analyze the water which was supplied to the metropolis, it was wasting its time in a very idle and unsatisfactory manner. If the commission were not to be allowed to look at the means of remedying the present insalubrious and inefficient supply, it was worse than useless to appoint them. If they had nothing to do but to analyze the water—which, by the by, had been repeatedly done by the first chymists in London, why had they been appointed? The physician who was appointed a member of the commission, might be the most learned of physicians, the chymist the most able of chymists, and the engineer the most expert and ingenious of engineers; but we did not want a learned physician, to tell us that the water was insalubrious, nor an able chymist to analyze its contents, nor an ingenious engineer to make surveys and take levels, unless they were also to seek for a remedy to the evils which they discovered. He was of opinion, that it would be of great advantage to the public to have any plan, which might be proposed for the better supply of water to the metropolis, executed under the authority of government; and he thought that it would be better for government to fix upon some plan for such an object, than to leave it to the whim and caprice of individual speculators. He considered the present to be one of the most important matters that had ever fallen within the remedial powers of any government. The main object to which the government ought to look in any measures which it might hereafter think proper to adopt was, to obtain water from pure sources, and not from such sources as required every thing which came from them to be filtrated previously to its being reduced to a condition fit for use. There was another part of this subject which likewise deserved the attention of parliament—and that was, the cost of the supply of water to the metropolis. In this article, all the principles of free trade were violated and set at nought. The different water companies had established a complete monopoly. ["Order" from the Speaker.] He begged pardon—he was aware that on the present occasion he had no right to enter upon such a discussion; but it was almost impossible to leave off. Here the conversation dropped.