HC Deb 29 April 1851 vol 116 cc309-41

rose, according to notice, to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better supply of Water to the Metropolis. He considered that it would be unnecessary to occupy the time of the House with any details in reference to the various inquiries, both by Committees of that House and by Commissions acting under the authority of the Crown, into this subject. The information collected by those Committees and Commissions had long been in the possession of the House, and the Report of the Board of Health, acting also under the authority of that House, had last Session laid before the House a mass of information on the subject; and he needed only to refer to it in general terms, without quoting any of the evidence which they had adduced in support of the proposition, which he believed now would be generally admitted, namely, that some extensive change was necessary in the mode of providing for a supply of water to the metropolis, with the view to ensure what was essential to the health, the convenience, and the comfort of its inhabitants—an adequate supply of good and wholesome water. There was one other point also with which he did not think he needed long to occupy the time of the House. In answer to a question put to him some time ago on this subject, he stated that, while the Government was not then prepared to submit a Bill on the subject, it had yet received much of their consideration, and they had come to the conclusion, that the principle of competition could not be trusted to in order to secure those objects which the Government and the Legislature desired to provide. On this subject now there appeared to be a general admission, that, looking at all the facts of the case, and after the practical experience we had had, that competition could not safely be trusted to attain that object. The result of all the inquiries was, that when Parliament granted Bills to private water companies, this object was not attained. For a time a competition, and a fierce competition, arose, leading to the reduction of rates to a low amount; but the necessary consequence was, that the competition being ruinous, the parties concerned combined together, and made an arrangement to protect their own interests, by which no competition was practically admitted. The metropolis was divided into nine districts, each district being assigned to a separate company, and these companies provided all the supply for the whole of the metropolis, at different rates of cost to the consumers, according to the discretion of the different governing bodies belonging to the companies. These governing bodies were irresponsible in their administration as to the sources whence the water was derived, and, consequently, as to the quality, and irresponsible as to the mode of service, and the cost of the supply furnished to the consumer. The first question, therefore, which arose in that case was this, whether they should adhere to the existing system, or whether an essential change was not necessary with regard to it? On this point he would say no more, because it admitted of an easy solution; and he apprehended there would be no difference of opinion on it in that House; so also he would dismiss the question of competition and its practical results. They arrived, then, at the next important question—What substitute was it the duty of the Government to propose, and Parliament to adopt, for the system the evil effects of which had been pointed out in the Reports of the various Committees and Commissions to which he had briefly referred? Now, this was a question of a very different nature, and one that involved very great difficulty and embarrassment. We had on this subject the elaborate and able Report of the Board of Health—presented to the House in the course of the last Session of Parliament; the evidence on which that Report was framed being subsequently presented, and having been placed in the hands of hon. Members at the beginning of this Session. That Report and the evidence having received the ample consideration of the Government, he was now prepared to state to the House the course which they thought it right to propose in dealing with this question. In referring to the Report of the Board of Health, for the reasons he had stated he should pass over the greater part of that Report, which comprised a great deal of evidence as to the effects of the present system, and which, he thought, tended to demonstrate the conclusion, which was now generally admitted to be a sound one, namely, that the system hitherto pursued had failed in effecting the objects for which Parliament had sanctioned its adoption. The first material point in the Report of the Board of Health as a recommendation, was, that all the existing sources of supply should be altogether and absolutely abandoned; and that the water to be derived for the supply of the metropolis should be sought for from altogether new and untried sources. He referred to this because he did not intend to ask the House, in the Bill he was now about to introduce, to pledge itself at all as to that question. That question was not yet in a state in which the Government could ask the House to express a decided opinion upon it, or finally to adopt any scheme founded on any such opinion. The Board of Health, the House would recollect, recommended in the first instance, as the result of inquiries and surveys made under their direction, that the existing sources should be altogether abandoned, as incapable of supplying water of that quality which was necessary and essential for the metropolis. They recommended, as the result of their inquiries, that recourse for supply should be had to the tract of country near Farnham and Bagshot—that the water for the metropolis should be rain water, collected together in gathering grounds, and supplied by pipes for the use of the inhabitants. At a subsequent period, the Board of Health reported that further inquiries which they had made had led to a modification of that opinion. The evidence on these subsequent inquiries was before the House, and the modification of opinion was—that while they thought the existing sources of supply ought to be altogether abandoned, and considered that recourse should still be had to the same districts referred to in their original Report; they were convinced that instead of rain water, collected together in gathering grounds, sufficient spring water might be found in these districts, which, by means of pipes, might be brought to and distributed through the metropolis. He would not further advert to this part of the recommendation of the Board of Health, except to say he thought that the modifications of the recommendation they felt it their duty to make, as the consequence of further inquiry, suggested caution and circumspection in abandoning all the sources of the supply of water to the metropolis on which we had hitherto depended, and having recourse to new sources, without the fullest and most deliberate consideration, and without the largest information which could be obtained. With that view, Government felt it to be their duty, towards the close of last year, to refer copies of all the documents in their possession on the subject to three gentlemen of acknowledged eminence—Mr. Graham, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Hofman, who were requested, after fully considering the whole of the documentary evidence laid before them, including the evidence taken before a Select Committee of that House on the Lea River Trust Bill last Session—evidence given by men of great authority—to report on the chemical quality of the water now supplied to the metropolis, and of the water derived from the sources indicated in the Report of the Board of Health, and on other questions bearing on the subject. The object of that inquiry was to assertain to what extent, if any, the existing sources of supply might be retained; and how far the quality of the water might be improved by filtration or otherwise; and also to what new sources of supply recourse should be had in case they were driven to seek for absolutely new sources of supply. He had hoped that this inquiry would be completed before it became his duty to submit to the House, on the part of the Government, a Bill for providing a better supply of water for the metropolis; but the analyses required, and the minute investigations which it was necessary to insititute, had hitherto prevented these gentlemen from making a Report on the subject. Instead, therefore, of waiting until this was received, he had thought it better, looking at the Bills which were pending to carry out objects sought to be effected by various companies, at once to lay before the House an outline of the scheme which Government thought it expedient to adopt. The Bill which he should ask leave to introduce would not call upon the House to express any opinion with respect to a question which he must still consider unsettled, but it would empower the Government to enforce on those parties to whom the future administration of the supply of water to the metropolis was to be confided, the obligation of obtaining supplies from those sources which might ultimately be found the best for the supply of water, both as to quantity and quality. Passing by this part of the recommendation, he came now to the machinery which the Board of Health proposed as a substitute for the existing machinery of the nine companies which occupied the whole of what was generally termed the metropolitan district, each occupying a separate portion of that district. The recommendation of the Board of Health was, that instead of there being a plurality of boards of management, each with its staff of official persons, there should be one combined board; and he thought that on this subject the reasons they had adduced were cogent, and entitled to weight and consideration. He thought they had shown, as other inquiries had shown, theadvantage—instead of having a plurality of boards of management, dividing the metropolis into different districts, charging different rates, and furnishing water of very different quality, and each having its separate establishment—of one combined management, the effect of which would be to ensure increased efficiency in the mode of providing the supply, and a diminution of the cost. The principle of the Bill which the Government recommended, was not that the whole of the existing companies should he met by a rival company, or superseded by a Government board, but that the stock of the existing companies should be valued, its amount ascertained, and, that having been done, that the companies should be consolidated and placed under effectual control. The Board of Health further recommended the extension of the provisions of the Public Health Act to the metropolis, with such alterations as might be required by special circumstances. The provisions of that Act had been applied in other cases with great success and benefit, either where municipalities already existed, or where the population of the district was not too large, or extended over too wide an area. But as soon as the Board of Health had made that recommendation, they felt themselves obliged to depart from it, owing to the essential distinction which existed between the metropolis, with its immense area and population, continually increasing in extent and numbers, and other cities and towns of the kingdom. The Board of Health in their report, page 285, stated that— The general course of legislation for the improvement of local administration has of late been to consolidate local administrative bodies and extend administrative areas; to insure the individual attention of competent and responsible paid officers; to protect and secure rights of appeal to minorities; to raise new securities for protecting public interests against the narrow selfishness which is apt to predominate in small communities. The consolidation of old and creation of new local administrative bodies under the Public Health Act are analogous in principle to the consolidation of old functions and the creation of new local administrative bodies under the Poor Law Amendment Act. The application of the like administrative machinery to the metropolis appears to us, however, to be precluded by its vast magnitude and extensive relations, by the necessity for works as extensive, which must, for the sake of efficiency and economy, be under one and the same control, as being extraordinary in their nature, and requiring special qualifications and undivided attention for their superintendence and execution. Any attempt to execute the proposed works for the capital by the administrative machinery which is sufficient for provincial towns, would open new and large political questions, the settlement of which and the getting any such new administrative body or bodies into action for the metropolis, would, we apprehend, greatly delay the application of remedies, and prolong the sanitary evils of the population. We are, therefore, unprepared to recommend any deviation from the usual course, that, namely, of making a special provision for the metropolis. We must, however, express a decided opinion that, under the existing circumstances of the metropolis, public responsibility to the ratepayers will be best secured through Parliament. The recommendation in the passage he had quoted, and in others with reference to the Public Health Act, was, that the principle of that Act should be adopted to this extent—that there should be one combined management for one locality, applicable to the supply of water to the inhabitants within that area. But when they came to the other principle—that the administrative body should be a representative body acting for the locality, or created for this specific purpose in any given district—they were then compelled by the circumstances of the case to depart from that recommendation; and substantially their recommendation amounted to this—not the adoption of the principles of the Public Health Act, as carried out in other cities and towns, but the creation of a Government board of salaried officers, to whom the administration of the supply of water should be entrusted, and who should have all the necessary powers vested in them by Act of Parliament, both for procuring the supply of water, and providing for its service and distribution throughout the metropolis; as also for raising the necessary funds, whether by rate or by borrowing on the security of the rates; and generally of providing for all the purposes indispensable to the adoption of their scheme. It had been admitted by all those who had paid much attention to this subject that there were but three modes in which the object in view could be attained: the first, by some agency such as that which now existed; the second, by some municipality or quasi-municipality; and the third, that which was recommended by the Board of Health, a Government board acting under Government, control, and subjected to Parliamentary supervision, for the due execution of this service. This did not mean, however, that direct responsibility to Parliament which arose from members of the board sitting in Parliament, and answering questions addressed to them as to the performance of their duties, but that the board should consist of officers appointed by Government, and responsible, through them, to Parliament. The objections to this plan were formidable, and Government had not been able to satisfy themselves of the necessity of proposing or recommending to Parliament a board of that nature, consisting of salaried officers, paid by the Government. The supply of water had been hitherto managed by companies acting under powers entrusted to them by Act of Parliament, and which had existed for many years past. He was not prepared to deny that the Board of Health were right in suggesting their plan as the one which appeared best to them in the abstract; and he did not doubt that if they were dealing with this subject as a new one, irrespectively of the machinery established for a long series of years—irrespectively also of the habits which now existed, and of the aversion to the interference of Government in matters of daily and do- mestic concern—the proposal made by the Board of Health might be the best in itself, and one which Parliament would do well to adopt. They could not, however, overlook the fact that they had now a complete distributing apparatus, belonging to existing companies, with hundreds of miles of pipes extending to every part of the metropolis, communicating to every house of which the occupiers paid the sums charged for the supply of water. There were, besides, officers of great knowledge and experience in the employment of these companies, well versed in all the details of the distribution. The whole difficulty of this case arose from the fact of there being no municipality, and from there not being, as stated in the passage to which he had referred, any easy or immediate means of constituting any representative system applicable to what was generally termed the Metropolis, including so vast an area, with the immense number of inhabitants whom it was requisite to supply. If such a municipality existed, if such a representative system could be provided, he had no doubt, as he said before, that the best way would be to act through its means, as in the case of Liverpool and other large towns, and that such an agency would, be more satisfactory to the inhabitants than any other system. But in the metropolis, such machinery did not exist; and at the present moment they were driven to choose between a Government board, as recommended by the Board of Health, and—he would not say a variety of companies, because he had already expressed his belief that that system was most objectionable, but—one company subjected to the control of Government and Parliament, for the attainment of an object essential to the comfort, convenience, and health of the inhabitants of the metropolis. On this question he knew that great difference of opinion existed. Without imputing any blame to the companies, and admitting that they had of late years made great improvements in the mode of supply, but thinking the system defective, acting as they did irresponsibly and without control, he knew that great objections were felt in some quarters to having any person employed in carrying out the measures now contemplated—who had been connected with the companies, which, theoretically competing but practically combining, had excluded competition, and, free from any check or control on the part of the Executive Government, had kept the supply of water entirely in their own hands. The Metropolitan Sanitary Association referred to a communication received by their Committee from Mr. John Stuart Mill, to whose opinion they deservedly attach weight, though he stated that the subject was one much more of public policy than of political economy. His opinion had been asked with reference to the views expressed by those who objected to the representative system, and also the system of management through the different water companies. The only passage he (Sir George Grey) should read from the letter of Mr. Mill was the following:— The principle of Government regulation I conceive to be indisputable; but it remains to be considered whether the Government may best discharge this function by itself undertaking the operation for the supply of water, or by controlling the operations of others. It is quite possible, especially when private companies have long since established themselves and have taken possession of the supply, that the most eligible mode of proceeding might be to leave the operations in the hands of the companies, prescribing such conditions as to the quantity and quality of water, convenience of supply, and rate of charge, as to insure the best provision at the cheapest rate which local facilities and the state of science and engineering may admit of. If the saving to be obtained by a consolidation of establishments and of works be a sufficient reason against keeping up a plurality of companies, it might be expedient to intrust the whole to a single company, giving the preference to that which would undertake to conform to the prescribed conditions at the lowest rates of charge. He quoted that to show that Mr. Mill, a high authority in the opinion of Gentlemen who differed from the Government, affirmed the principle of the proposition he (Sir George Grey) had made, stating that it was not only admissible, but that there were strong grounds to recommend it. The principle of the measure he asked leave to introduce was the consolidation of the nine existing companies into one company, the stock of which should be valued either in the mode proposed by the Board of Health, or in some other mode to be provided by Parliament. The mode proposed was by arbitration; and the stock having been ascertained, they should be charged with the whole of the supply throughout the district occupied by the nine existing companies, and should be entitled to a limited dividend only on the ascertained amount of the capital stock, provision be- ing made for the limitation of the rates charged to the consumers, and the company being subject to the control of Government and Parliament, with power reserved to Government to purchase up the rights of the company at a fixed rate. The Bill would create, in lieu of the present capital, a consolidated capital stock, the amount to be determined and apportioned to the several companies by arbitration. It was proposed that the dividend should be limited in the first instance to 5 per cent, that it should never increase beyond 6 per cent, and that no augmentation beyond 5 per cent should take place until the rates of supply throughout the metropolitan district should be reduced to the scale in the schedule annexed, which was lower than that of the present supply. As to new works for the improvement of the supply, the company would be empowered by the Bill to raise money for that purpose. When the income derived from the existing rates was found to be more than sufficient to defray the current expenses, then the rates should be reduced, power being given to the Treasury from time to time to reduce them, and the public getting the benefit of the reduction. It was proposed, further, that power should be given to the Secretary of State to direct the company to procure a new supply of water from any source which the result of the inquiries in progress should point out as desirable; the company having to take the necessary steps to obtain powers for that purpose from Parliament. He had now stated the general outline of the measure, its object being to secure a constant and continuous supply of water for domestic purposes, as recommended by the Board of Health, and at a moderate rate. The Secretary of State was also authorised to require the company to furnish such water as might be needed for the cleansing of the metropolis and for sanitary purposes. There would also be provisions with reference to a supply of water for an inferior class of houses. There would be provisions securing an audit of the account of the company by the Commissioners of Audit, and empowering the Treasury to revise and reduce the rates at which the consumer could obtain a supply of water. A very considerable saving would be effected by a consolidated management, instead of a management of nine boards, with their respective staffs. There would be also increased efficiency in the management, and responsibility to Government, and Parliament, with the means of enforcing an adequate supply of water to the metropolis from the best sources, and security for the audit and publication of accounts. There would also be a reduction of expense to the consumer. The arrangement proposed was in the nature of a contract made by the Government with the company; and he had very little doubt that if the existing companies were out of the way altogether a new company might be found willing to undertake the supply. He must say the Government thought it but fair, if the water companies were willing to accept the proposed terms, and to perform faithfully the contract into which they would be called to enter, that they should have the first offer of that contract. He had recently communicated to the various companies an outline of the scheme proposed by Government, with the view of eliciting from them their opinions upon the subject, and he must say that that communication had been met in a fair and reasonable spirit. They stated that they had no preliminary objection to the plan of the Government, but that they were not in a condition to give their consent to the measure till they had an opportunity of considering it in all its details, after the Bill had been laid on the table of the House. Some of them, no doubt, had stated objections to certain details of the scheme, but he did not think any of them had objected in limine to the proposal. What he asked now of the House was leave to introduce the Bill, in order that the water companies and the public might have an opportunity of examining the details of the plan. The Bill, he apprehended, would be of the nature of a mixed Bill, partaking both of a public and private character; and it would be his duty to propose that after the second reading the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, where all matters of detail would be considered—the mode of amalgamation, the principle on which the valuation of the companies' property should be carried out, and many other points which would properly come before them. It was of the greatest importance, indeed, that every part of the measure should undergo the most careful investigation before a Committee of that House, and that this should take place at the earliest possible period. He therefore moved for leave to bring in a Bill for the better supply of Water to the Metropolis.


wished to say a few words, as he happened to be a shareholder in the New River Company, and had lately become a director in that company by virtue of the share which he held. He slated this to show that he had a personal interest in the question before the House, though he trusted his personal interest would never prevent him acting as he ought to do with regard to the subject-matter now before the House. He would say at once that the metropolis had a right to the best supply of water that could be given, both as regarded quantity and quality. He would be ready to acquiesce in any plan for effecting that object that a Committee of the House might consider right, and he had no doubt he would be seconded in that view by the members of the board with which he was connected. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) for the disposition he had shown to do justice to the water companies, and for exhibiting a desire not to destroy unnecessarily the vast property of those companies, which other parties, perhaps, might not have been disposed to exhibit. As he understood the proposal which had been laid before the House, the Government had well considered the requirements of the public; they stepped in to prevent any unnecessary outlay of capital and destruction of property if the end sought for by the public—viz., an ample supply of good water—could be secured through the agency of the existing companies; and the principle upon which they had acted seemed to be a very good one. He begged, however, to say a few words relative to the company with which he was connected, his share in which had come to him by inheritance, and was, he might observe, of the nature of a freehold, giving votes in two counties. Many things had been advanced against the London water companies, which were not true, though there might be a foundation for some of the charges on which the great superstructure of blame had been raised. With regard to the New River Company, he might say that for some years their proceedings had always tended to a better and cheaper supply of water. A sum of 300.000l. had been spent for that purpose on their works since 1834, a considerable portion in reservoirs for subsidence. Some persons considered that subsidence was not equal to filtration, but this was a point about which great difference of opinion prevailed. No sewers were now permitted to go into the New River channel, being carried under the bed of the river in conduits. The inference to be drawn from certain writers on the subject would lead the public to believe that the case was otherwise. The fact was as he had stated it. As to the rates, they had been greatly reduced with respect to the lowest class of houses. They were 6s. for two-roomed, and 9s. for three-roomed houses, whilst 7s. 6d. was paid on a similar class of houses in Nottingham. Out of 83,000 houses which they supplied, there were but 2,835 supplied by stand pipes, whereas out of 11,000 houses in Nottingham 7,942 were supplied by stand pipes. Instead of a supply of water three times a week, they now gave a daily supply. The cost of carrying out that arrangement was 40,000l. If he deducted the charge for the high-water service, the average cost per house was not more than 25s., which was not a very high rate. They did not receive more than 4½ or 4¾ per cent dividend on their capital. They were pledged to carry out the last of the suggestions of the late Mr. Telford for getting water from Tottenham mills, which would be at a cost of 30,000l. They proposed also to lay out a large sum of money, either in filtering the water, or in using Dr. Clark's process for purifying and softening it, if it was considered to be the more eligible plan. With regard to the giving a constant supply of water, Mr. Lindley had lately surveyed their waterworks with a view of accomplishing that object. Their present works were not sufficient for the purpose, but they had no objection to make their works more extensive to carry out the principle of a constant supply. They were shortening the course of the river by about twelve miles; and for all these objects powers were asked by the Company in their Bill now before Parliament. It might be objected that they had delayed long in making these improvements; but the truth was they had been cramped by the proceedings of the Board of Health. It was impossible for them to be laying out large sums of money till they knew what course the Government would take on the report of their subordinate Board, and what new sources of supply might be indicated. The Company were disposed to do everything that was required. They had a district which was every day becoming more popu- lous, and they were almost obliged to turn away customers, on the outskirts of their district, lest they should interfere with the supply of their ordinary consumers. They were seeking to obtain more water from the river Lea, which would, he believed, when filtered properly, prove the best source of supply for the north of London. Having thus stated what this company had been and were doing, he wished to make a few observations upon the plan now proposed by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) proposed, as he (Sir J. Johnstone) understood, to amalgamate under one board all the existing companies, with the view of applying what might be saved in management to the effecting of improvements, and to the diminishing of the charge for supply. The New River Company were quite disposed to meet the question of amalgamation in a fair spirit. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the value of amalgamation under certain circumstances; but he really did not see what there was to prevent that House from passing a Bill which would tie down each company to certain rules and regulations relative to supply, in a manner similar to that in which it was proposed to deal with the companies when amalgamated in one body. Supplying as it did one-third of the metropolis, the New River Company felt that it was large enough to be put under separate control; though at the same time they did not deny that the public might derive advantages from amalgamation, supposing a large saving in expenses could be thus obtained. He rejoiced that a Committee was to be appointed. In Committee the company which he represented would have an opportunity of meeting face to face those who were concerned in what was called the Bagshot scheme, and of testing the merits of that scheme before a competent tribunal. There might be some truth in the statements which had been made on that source of supply; but he must say that the names of the engineers employed were not names to which the public would be disposed to look with confidence, or which would justify the House in at once adopting the scheme. Engineers who were quite as competent to form a judgment as the engineers employed by the Board of Health were of opinion that not more than 12,000,000 gallons of spring water could possibly be obtained from that district; and they declared that the surface water was inferior in many respects to that of the New River Company. All that was objected to in the New River water was a certain degree of hardness, and that might be removed: by boiling, it was softened down to about four degrees of hardness. In Committee they would be prepared to show that there had been a good deal of exaggeration, and that the waste of soap was very trifling. The company to which he belonged would give the whole subject their best consideration; and no personal interests would prevent him from taking that course which he should deem best in reference to the metropolitan water supply.


said, that if the water companies had now shown themselves fair and reasonable, it was the first time in their existence that they had done so, and he could only look at the Bill before the House as one to strengthen the injurious monopoly now possessed by those companies. He wished to ask the right hon. Secretary of State, who had been consulted in the drawing up of this Bill? Had the Members of the Sanitary Commission been consulted, or those of the Board of Health? In speaking of the Board of Health, he meant to leave out the name of the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, because it appeared that he was a member of no less than sixteen Commissions; and the Earl of Carlisle, in his evidence, in 1848, said that it was impossible to fulfil the multifarious duties imposed upon him in his official capacity as First Commissioner of Woods and Forests; but he wished to know whether the other commissioners—Lord Ashley, Mr. Chadwick, and Dr. Southwood Smith—had been consulted in the drawing of the Bill? There had been no fewer than three Commissions appointed by Government to consider these important questions connected with the sanitary state of the metropolis—the Health of Towns Commission, the Metropolitan Sanitary Commission, and the General Board of Health; and he would remind the House that the members of all these Commissions were in favour of taking this monopoly out of the hands of the present companies. The hon. Member who had just resumed his seat said, that the conduct of the water companies, up to the present time, had been fair and reasonable; but he (Mr. Cochrane) would refer the House to the Report of the General Board of Health, from which it appeared that nothing could be more fearful than the misery under which the lower orders in the metropolis suffered from the want of an adequate supply of water. He did not think such a Report could have been produced in any other country. The hon. Member had stated that it was only a question of the relative hardness or softness of water; but was he aware that the evidence taken before the Central Board of Health showed that there were now 18,000 houses in the metropolis without any supply of water? and that their inhabitants had to get their water from sewers full of foul matter, or to purchase it at neighbouring public-houses at so much a bucketful? The hon. Member (Sir John Johnstone) said that he thanked Her Majesty's Government for this Bill; and it was precisely for that reason that he (Mr. Cochrane) thought this Bill was so objectionable. The conduct of these monopolists had been the same from the first moment of their existence—always making the fairest promises, but never fulfilling them. Under the Health of Towns Act, water was supplied in the larger towns at 2d. a week average, while the average cost of the supply in London was 7½d. per week; and this had gone on in spite of the promises and assurances which these great monopolist companies had given from time to time. The right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) had quoted from a pamphlet of the Metropolitan Sanitary Association, but he had not referred to the opinion of that association with respect to the manner in which the metropolis had been supplied with water. They said— We deem it our duty to represent to your Lordship that the persons who assume to be the parochial representatives, and contend that the management of these great works should be in the hands of the parochial authorities, are the very persons who declaimed against the Public Health Act, who strenuously opposed the extension of its provisions to the metropolis, and exerted themselves to the utmost of their power to prevent its introduction into other towns, and even presumed to intrude their opposition to sanitary precautions during the horrors of a pestilence, and expressed bitter hostility against the most active promoters of sanitary improvements; and they now claim to superintend the carrying out of the measures adopted by the Government, and sanctioned by the Legislature, in spite of their opposition. What was the object of appointing all these Commissions if their advice was not to be taken, and if the powers of these companies were to be confirmed—the nine smaller monopolies being concentrated into one huge monopoly? Why, these companies had already attained the point at which the right hon. Baronet aimed by his measure. They began with competition, and had ended with combination; and all that he proposed to do was, to strengthen that combination, under which the inhabitants of the metropolis were now suffering. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir William Clay) well knew how much the inhabitants of the metropolis were dissatisfied with the present system, and there was nothing in the Bill of the Government which could give him (Mr. Cochrane) confidence that the misery under which the lower orders were now suffering from these monopolies would not be continued. These companies claimed compensation—compensation for what? Was compensation given to the canals when the railways were started? or to the roadside inns when the traffic was taken off the roads, and turned into a different channel? or to the sailing packets when the steamers were first started? The fact was, that if these companies had conducted themselves discreetly and properly, and with justice—he might almost say with common honesty—there would not now have been this well-founded out-cry against the miserable system under which the metropolis was suffering. While the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) would destroy all other monopolies, he appeared to pride himself on keeping up the one great monopoly of the water companies. The right hon. Baronet had voted in favour of free trade in corn, and against all monopoly in bread, but he appeared to be strongly in favour of a monopoly in the supply of water to the metropolis; while, in fact, the supply of water was more important to the metropolis than that of bread. If they started a company with such powers, and admitted such a monopoly, it would be impossible for the people to obtain water, except at a price which rendered it impossible for them to procure it in sufficient quantities for the ordinary decencies and necessaries of life. The Sanitary Association said— We may be permitted, in conclusion, to express our belief that the measures which we have so much at heart have still higher purposes and tendencies than even the preservation of health. From all that we have learned in our intercourse with the great masses of the people of the country, we are convinced that these measures must precede and prepare the way for any great and permanent improvement in the moral, social, and religious condition of the people. That was the language of the Sanitary Commission, of the Central Board of Health, and of all those Gentlemen who had been appointed by the House of Commons to investigate this question; but it was language which had not been listened to by the right hon. Baronet, whose object, in fact, in the present Bill, was to perpetuate a very baneful monopoly.


did not wish at that moment to use words of hostility towards any party. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had exhibited rather too much warmth against the water companies, forgetting that if any party were to blame it was that House, which had given powers to be abused. On one great point they were all agreed, namely, that there should be an improvement in the supply of water, both as to quantity and quality. When the West Middlesex Water Bill was introduced in that House, great opposition was made to it; but he (Mr. Hume) supported it with the understanding and pledge that the company should be a competing company, his opinion being that competition was the only fair and proper means of securing a reduction of prices. A clause was introduced into the Bill to prevent combination with any other company. After a ruinous competition had been carried on, the West Middlesex Company applied to Parliament for the purpose of getting the clause struck out of the Bill. Mr. Smith, the chairman of the water company to which the hon. Baronet (Sir John Johnstone) had alluded, was chairman of the Committee upstairs, and in spite of his (Mr. Hume's) opposition, the clause was struck out. The result was, that one or two companies met and divided the metropolis into districts. Now, the question was, whether these objects could not be attained consistently with the regard due to existing interests, and also in such a manner as would benefit the public. He thought that the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet was attended with great difficulty; the responsibility of Ministers checked by the House of Commons was practically nothing. Then with respect to compensation—were these companies to be compensated for the capital which had been wasted in a ruinous competition, or according to the amount which it would cost, to lay down an equal extent of pipes at the present time? He saw great difficulty in keeping any check on the expenditure of the amalgamated companies, or upon the charges; nor could he see what security the public would have for good management. He had no confidence in a check by Government Commissioners or by Parliament; and he believed that the only way by which the supply of water to the metropolis could be increased, and brought down to the rate at which it was supplied to the larger towns, was by allowing the competition of new companies, with new capital, and deriving their supply from new sources. The monopoly of the supply of gas to the metropolis had been broken up (and we were now served with gas at a fair rate), not by Government taking the different gas companies into their hands, but by allowing other companies to come in, and then the existing companies reduced their terms. He did not oppose the introduction of the Bill, nor the companies doing their best, as they were entitled to do, to avail themselves of the powers which Parliament had given them. The inquiry before a Select Committee might point out some way by which to attain the desirable objects to which he had referred; but he feared that any interference on the part of a Government board would be a failure. He knew that there were now two or three new companies ready to come forward and compete for the supply of the metropolis with water from new sources; but they were deterred by the expense of a Parliamentary contest with the existing companies. That had hitherto prevented the increase of the supply; but if Government would show that they were determined to have this supply, he had no doubt that they could make better terms with the existing companies, and admit new ones.


said, that there could be no objection to the introduction of the Bill, but he thought those who seemed most satisfied with it were those represented by the hon. Baronet (Sir John Johnstone) and other Gentlemen in a similar position. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir William Clay) assented, he believed, to the statement that there should be new sources of supply—[Sir WILLIAM CLAY: Hear, hear!] Why, then, he asked, had not the existing companies brought water from these new sources? Why had they delayed to the last moment, and until it was absolutely necessary, taking any steps for supplying the wants of the metropolis? He objected to paying the shareholders in these companies the full amount of the capital which they had expended, for if the Report of the Sanitary Commission was carried out, as he hoped it would be, and we were no longer to have the present filthy sources of supply, the effect would be that a great part of the stock of these companies would be of no use or value. During his Parliamentary career many Bills had been introduced into Parliament to improve the water supply of the metropolis; but they had invariably been opposed by the existing water companies. Last Session, two or three Bills were postponed at the suggestion of the Government, till it was too late to proceed with them; and he contended that they were thrown over merely for the purpose of continuing the monopoly to the water companies. If these companies were amalgamated together, as proposed by this Bill, it might, perhaps, cause some saving in the expense, but it would make the companies more powerful than ever. Instead of perpetuating the evils that at present existed, every inducement should be given to parties coming forward to abolish the monopolies which had existed so long, and had made vast returns to their shareholders at the expense of the community. He questioned whether this Bill would not, in some instances, do more harm than good; but as there would be an opportunity of discussing the whole question in Committee, and no doubt there would be petitions from the various parties praying to be heard there, he should say no more at present upon the question; but he must deprecate the conduct of the shareholders of these companies, who had been so long perfectly silent and inattentive to the wants of the metropolis, caring only for their own pecuniary advantage, without regarding the sanitary condition of the population of this large city.


could not but express his regret that such a proposition as the one made to the House should have proceeded from a Government, to which, on personal and private grounds, he was so sincerely attached, and which, during the short time it had been in office, had done more for the cause of sanitary improvement than all preceding Administrations during many centuries. He could not help thinking that, in bringing forward the present measure, the Government had considered rather what vested interests would allow them to pass, than what the rights and interests of the public would have dictated to them; and in this instance, as in the case of Smithfield market, had overestimated the amount of opposition to which a sanitary scheme, based on sound and comprehensive principles, would he liable, and under-estimated the amount of support it would conciliate. He thought some of the Members who had addressed the House did not appear to have a correct impression of his right hon. Friend's scheme. That scheme, as he understood it, proposed to consolidate all the existing companies into one company; to vest powers in the Secretary of State for the time being to compel these companies to have recourse to those sources of water which the Government might indicate as the best; to determine by arbitration the amount of the capital stock which should be apportioned between those companies; and to vest the entire monopoly in them,—giving, however, to the Government a power to resume, on fixed terms, the whole plant and management of water supply, to be then administered either by the Government, or by some other body to be intrusted with the function. He would state some of the objections to this proposition. In the first place, this scheme proposed to give up a point of the greatest importance, and one which had been recommended by authorities of great eminence, and in official documents of the Board of Health—he meant the combination of water supply with drainage. Were he disposed to trouble the House with calculations, he might show, on practical engineering evidence, that there would be a saving of one-eighth in earthworks alone, from such a combination; but he put it to the common sense of the House whether these two functions, equally requiring survey of houses, earthworks, pipes, superintendence, and frequent stoppages of the streets and highways, should be separated. To use the illustration of the able writer in the Quarterly Review, they might as well place under a different management the venous and arterial systems of the human body. The only objection to their combination appeared to consist, as intimated by his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) in the vastness of the metropolis, the great extent both of its area and population, and the large expenditure of money which would thereby be necessarily intrusted to one body. It was to be remembered, however, that a judicious consolidation of duties is always attended with diminished trouble and increased economy; but if the combination should be thought impracticable with respect to the whole of the metropolis, taken as one, then sound principle would dictate that the metropolis should be divided into two districts, one on the north side and the other on the south side of the Thames, and the combination carried into effect in each of those districts separately. Another great objection to the Government scheme consisted in the alienation of the monopoly of water supply from the community at large to private commercial companies. If there was any right, privilege, or profit in the supply of water to any community, that right, privilege, or profit ought essentially and indefeasibly to belong to the community itself. The hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir Benjamin Hall), and the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), referred to competition as the principle affording the only remedy for the evil of a bad supply of water; but in reference to that point, he would take the liberty of now repeating some remarks which he addressed to his constituents in a lecture delivered to them six or seven years ago. On that occasion, after explaining that— It was necessary for the authorities to do and prevent much which the self-interest of the individual members would be powerless to accomplish: to keep up armies; to administer justice; keep up police, &c.;" he went on to say, "but, further, we have another modification with respect to the general application of the principle, for a long time too broadly laid down, that demand regulates supply in the most advantageous manner. In cases where, for the supply of a limited demand, the fixed capital invested bears a very large proportion to what is called reproductive or circulating capital, no effectual competition can take place. Unless the exorbitant charges provoke, or the exorbitant profits tempt, some other party to contend with the original ones for the occupation of the whole or a part of a field not large enough for two, the monopoly is complete, limited only by the willingness of the public to consume at the rate charged, and by the dread of the establishment of a rival party; as the probability of this latter occurrence varies, so will the prices; they will fall when the danger is imminent, and be slowly raised as it subsides. If another capital is invested, for a time competition is sharp; but before long the two parties find it their interest to coalesce, and to charge the public for a supply produced by the application of two fixed capitals, where one would have sufficed for the work, as high a price, on the same principle, and subject to the same limitations only, as those which affected the returns upon the original capital. A Committee of the House of Commons upon the water supply of the metropolis reported that the supply of water was not subject to the operation of the usual laws which regulate supply, and that it indispensably required legislative interference. For these reasons, he believed, in opposition to the hon. Member for Marylebone, and the hon. Member for Montrose, that competition would not be a permanent remedy for the evils under which the community was suffering in respect to the supply of water; but that the matter was one which belonged more properly to the Government or to the municipality. The history of the existing water companies up to the present time showed that they all came forward with announcements of great deductions in their charges, and a desire to serve the public, and, that while the competition was sharp, those promises were kept; but by degrees they found it to be for their mutual interest to coalesce, and, as soon as a coalition was effected, the monopoly was rivetted only the more tightly. He was of opinion, for that among other reasons, that competition was not a permanent remedy for the evils under which they were suffering, and therein he entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) who distinctly took up the position that the matter was one which fell more within the province either of the Government or of the municipality, and that it was not one in which the laws of supply and demand could be trusted to, to protect the public interests. God sent his rain alike on the just and the unjust. Water was one of the prime necessaries of life, and a deficiency in its supply must be attended, as was found by long experience, with results injurious not only to the health, but to the social and moral condition of the people. Therefore, on this ground, as well as on those of political economy, the water supply of any community should be taken out of the trading category and dealt with on different principles; and to alienate it for ever to commercial companies would be utterly indefensible. With regard to the question of compensation to be given to the existing water companies, he did not think their treatment of their predecessors, of each other, or of the public, until a very recent period, entitled them to any special liberality at the hands of that House. With regard to their treatment of their predecessors, it was notorious that the original founders of the water monopolies had their interests most unceremoniously dealt with by the corporation of London. The companies had always recognised the principle of competition; and the only limitation they had placed on that principle was the protesting against that competition being conducted by the public, and against any power of the Government being brought in aid of it. Among themselves, for a long time, they carried on a most fierce and extravagant contest, which resembled the famous "battle of the gauges" among the railroad companies, He submitted that they had no just claim to expect privileges and rights to be continued to them which they did not recognise in their dealings either with their predecessors or with each other. He did not desire to enter at present into the plausible but not very satisfactory defence of the New River Company made by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John Johnstone); but there was abundant and convincing evidence to show that the Supply of water by the existing companies was not at present satisfactory. Mr. Arthur Hassall, a celebrated naturalist, at p. 43 of the Appendix to the Water Supply Report, after describing the impurities and organic matter found in the water of the New River Company, said that— The waters of those companies which derive their supplies from the Thames are some of them as bad as it was possible to conceive any water used as a beverage could be, abounding not merely with dead organic matter, but also with living animal and vegetable productions. Though all were in a very impure state, yet marked differences were observable in the degree of impurity. The waters of those companies which supply the Surrey side of the metropolis are far worse than those of any of the remaining companies. Bad as it is, that of the Grand Junction Company is yet the best of all the Thames water companies. And besides Mr. Hassall's, there was the evidence of many other scientific authorities to the same effect. He would not recommend the water companies to put their rights or their claims on such a footing as to demand "the bond, and nothing but the bond," for in that case the public would be provoked either to press on the Government with irresistible force to deal in a very different manner from that which his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey), proposed to deal with those companies, or to take the matter into their own hands and set up a company, to which, in that case, he would wish success—a Water Consumers Company, which would leave the existing companies to such a remedy as competition would give them—a company which would give a continuous supply of soft water at high pressure to the top of every house, and that at a far lower rate than the existing companies furnished an intermittent supply of hard and impure water to the standpipes, cisterns, and water-butts, which were required under the present defective system. The companies must not expect the House to pay them interest on all their past follies and all their past ignorances. He believed the House would be disposed, as usual, to deal liberally with existing interests in effecting a change of system; but he warned the water companies not to press their claims too tightly, lest the public should take the matter into their own hands, and deal with it in a way for which they were not prepared. The functions performed by water companies were public in their nature to a very great extent. When his hon. Friend (Sir John Johnstone) talked of the vested interests of the water company shareholders and their securities being put in Schedule A, he (Viscount Ebrington) Would ask him whether that did not equally apply to turnpike trust deeds? Their money was originally invested to provide for an essential public necessity at a maximum interest of 5 per cent, the minimum now proposed to be guaranteed to the water companies; and now in consequence of the construction of railways, the debenture holders, in many instances, were receiving little or nothing. He held in his hand official documents showing how, to use the language of the Stock Exchange, passive debts of upwards of 100,000l. had been converted into an active debt of less than 10,000l. He entreated the House to consider well before they dealt too liberally with a body of men who had not acted either in the manner required by the demands of the public health, or in a way at all conformable with their magnificent promises. He could hardly sum up his views better than in the words of the following extract from a pamphlet published by his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir William Clay), who so ably represented some of the most influential water companies:— There is no doubt that the water service should be, wherever practicable, vested in the hands not of individuals, but of some authorities, municipal or other, acting on behalf of the public. For thus vesting it there are reasons which seem to me to be conclusive. 1. A supply of water, abundant and of good quality, is so absolutely essential not only to the public health, but even to public morals, that it would appear on this account alone to fall within that class of functions which Government is bound to take upon itself. 2. There is a great and obvious convenience in the supply of water being vested in the same authority in any locality, as the paving and sewerage. 3. There is, perhaps, no other mode by which the public can be perfectly protected against the possible occurrence of some of those evils to which monopoly has been found to lead, and, at all events, the cost of water will, or ought to be, less to the consumer. To private parties the supply of water is a commercial enterprise—they have a right to look for rates which will not only pay current interest on the capital expended, but as much larger a return as will be a compensation for the risk incurred. This right is founded in justice, and must always be, as it has always been, recognised by the Legislature. 4. There is nothing in the character of a water supply which places it beyond the range of those functions which public authorities may conveniently discharge. There is no commercial acuteness required, no buying and selling, no watching of markets. The works once well formed, the carrying them on may be intrusted, not only without inconvenience, but perhaps with advantage, to one superintending officer, acting under the control of the governing authority. He could not conclude without expressing his regret that the Government, embracing as it did more than one Member who had put their names to the able Report on water supply by the Board of Health, should have introduced a scheme so defective as the present.


did not mean to detain the House at any length on the present occasion, but he could not avoid saying a few words in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Baillie Cochrane). In the first place, the hon. Gentleman had spoken of the promises held out by the water companies with which he (Sir William Clay) was connected. Now, he was not sorry to have an opportunity of correcting the misapprehensions which existed as to the degree in which he was personally responsible in the matter. The fact was that, although he held water company property, he had nothing to do with the management of water company affairs until come considerable period after the ruinous contest between the companies had ceased, and until the matters complained of had already been carried into effect. He did not wish to be understood, however, as saying that he thought the companies wrong in the course they had taken, because he was precisely of an opposite opinion. He believed that, in the main, they had taken the course of common sense which Parliament should have taken for them. When the hon. Gentleman talked of promises not having been carried into effect, he should recollect that the indefensible conduct which he (Sir William Clay) admitted had, in some respects, been adopted by the companies in the course of the ruinous contest which they had carried on, was the inevitable result of the competition in which they had been distinctly encouraged by the Legislature. For a period of nine or twelve years they were without the smallest return for their capital; and it was perfectly puerile to suppose that any party could be induced to continue competition under such circumstances. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) advocated competition; but the hon. Member stood almost alone, for everybody knew that the principle of competition could not be advantageously applied to a supply of water. Then, with regard to what the hon. Member had said about the price which was charged for water, he should understand, and the public should understand, that the price which the companies charged when the division of the town was effected, received the distinct sanction of a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which recommended that a Bill should be brought in legalising and sanctioning the price, and that that price price did not for some time afford more than an exceedingly small return—the highest, he believed, being five per cent; that the companies had since prospered arose from the fact—not that they had broken through any understandings into which they were supposed to have entered with the House of Commons, but that the growth of the metropolis had increased without a corresponding increase in their expenditure. He agreed with the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) in the propriety of supplying the dwellings of the humble classes with pure water; but he denied that the inefficient supply had arisen from any fault on the part of the companies. For it was obvious that if No. 1, and No. 5, and No. 10, in a street, lane, alley, or court, required water, and that the iron main was laid down, so far from being a disadvantage, it would be a positive advantage to the companies if every house and every room in these places were supplied with water free, "the main" having been laid down, the expense of the smaller pipes was comparatively trifling. The real cause of the insufficient supply was the reluctance of the owners of these small tenements, in which the humbler portion of the London population lived, to incur the expense of any water supply, however moderate; for those persons preferred a large interest on the outlay in those houses to the comforts of the occupants. He therefore denied that the smallest blame was attributable to the water companies on this head. Hence the necessity of a power existing somewhere to compel the use of water—a power which the present companies had never possessed. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey), in introducing the present Bill, had stated that he thought a power should be given to the authorities of parishes to compel the use of water; and he (Sir William Clay) might venture to add that he believed there would be a corresponding power given to compel the companies to provide the necessary supply of water upon exceedingly low terms; he believed on lower terms than in almost any other town in the kingdom. His hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir Benjamin Hall), when he (Sir William Clay) cheered his remark, that a fresh supply of water was necessary, took occasion to ask him why in that case the existing companies had not procured a fresh supply; and also why they had last year opposed the Bills which were introduced for that purpose? In reply to those questions he begged to say that the new sources of supply which were now proposed were not brought under public notice until the spring of last year, and that the opposition offered to the Bill of last year was perfectly justified by the Report of the Board of Health, which stated that none of the new companies proposed to bring in better water than that which was supplied by the existing companies. As regarded the nature of the Thames water, he might refer to the report of the Royal Commission of 1828, which was composed of men of the highest medical and scientific eminence, and they distinctly stated that no water could be superior to or more proper for the supply of London than the Thames water, when pains had been taken to deprive it of adventitious impurities. [Ironical cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen might express their dissent, but he referred to the report of the Commission to which he had adverted. His hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir Benjamin Hall) had adverted to the opposition given to Bills for the establishment of new water companies by the existing ones; but he thought these companies were justified in that opposition, for even the Report of the Board of Health had stated that no better water than Thames water could be procured. Therefore to encourage competi- tion would be only to encourage competition in price—a pernicious competition, which would lead, in the first instance, to the pulling up of every street in London; and then, after a great deal of vexation and torment of the public, end in a coalition, with matters no better than they originally were. With regard to the real and only question then before the House, viz., whether the plan proposed by the Government for the consolidation of the existing companies, and subjecting them to a regular and efficient Parliamentary control, was better than intrusting the water supply to a Government department, he wished to express no opinion in the abstract. His noble Friend (Viscount Ebrington) had done him the honour to quote a passage from a pamphlet written by him last year. Not one word of what he then stated would he retract. There were, in his opinion, reasons for placing the supply of water under the control of a municipal body, instead of leaving it in the hands of individuals. Whether or not the reasons which had induced the Cabinet to believe it impossible to establish a satisfactory municipal control in the metropolis were valid or not, he would not undertake to determine. The noble Lord (Viscount Ebrington) intimated that the plan proposed by the Government was not the result of the unbiassed judgment of the Government, but had been framed with a view to obviate anticipated opposition. If the noble Lord referred to opposition from the water companies, he was entirely mistaken on that point. Not only those companies had offered, and would have offered, no opposition to a scheme for placing the supply of water in the hands of Government exclusively; but, as far as depended on himself—if he could be supposed to represent the opinions of the water companies—he would prefer that arrangement to any other. The noble Lord, in alluding to the question of compensation, enlarged rather more than was necessary on the danger of the Executive Government and the House dealing too liberally with the water companies. Whatever might be the case elsewhere, it was not the wish of that House that the water companies should be harshly and unjustly dealt with. The water companies formed part of those powerful associations by which all the greatest works in this country had been accomplished; and although they had, far several years, been charged with every species of abuse and malversa- tion, they had not only, on the one hand, fulfilled all the obligations imposed on them by their acts of incorporation, and even laid out hundreds of thousands of pounds on objects which the Legislature had not required them to expend a farthing upon, but, on the other, they had abstained from charging what they were legally entitled to charge. All that was wrong with respect to the metropolitan water etablishments was the work of the Legislature—all that was right was mainly the work of the companies themselves. It was through the agency of these now reviled companies that London had been amply supplied with water half a century before the other great cities of the world. It was stated in the newspapers that the metropolis had not a sufficient supply of water; but the noble Lord (Viscount Ebrington), who was a member of the Board of Health, must know that twice as much water was brought into London as it was possible to use. It was not the supply, but the mode of distribution, which was defective. If the practicability of a continuous supply of water were a settled question of practical hydraulics—it was as regarded the lower class of houses only, but not as regarded the higher—nobody knew better than the noble Lord that the water companies had no power to enforce that system. If the system should form part of the Government plan, the utmost difficulty would be experienced in enforcing it, because it involved a strictness of regulation and extent of investigation into the arrangements of private houses to which the inhabitants of London had never been accustomed, and to which they would with great difficulty be brought to submit. There was no reason to suppose that the Executive or the House of Commons desired to deal otherwise than fairly towards the water companies; but, if the House should be inclined to act unfairly, he warned them that they could not injure the companies except at the risk of inflicting greater injury on the public. The question was one for compromise alone. If the question should be approached in a spirit of fair dealing on both sides, it could be settled on terms of equal advantage both to the water companies and the public; but if there were no compromise, hostility would be found disadvantageous to both parties. He believed the House would find the result of this measure, if carried through, would be to procure the very best water and its delivery in the very best mode, at the lowest possible prices at which such a supply of water could be effected. But, in conclusion, he would again say, that no means of hostility, or of inflicting injury on those companies, could be resorted to that would not result in higher water rates than would exist if a fair and just compromise were effected. He believed the Government took this view of the subject; and he should offer no opposition to the introduction of the Bill.


said, he rejoiced in the disposition of the Government to deal with the subject, but was dissatisfied with the details of the measure they appeared to propose. He did not perceive that any specific provision was made for a new source of supply. Unless this was satisfactorily settled, it seemed that the existing sources of supply would be had recourse to, impure as they were—as, for instance, the Thames, the water of which was undoubtedly unfit for human consumption—and if the Government adopted these sources of supply, and the water with which we were at present not blessed but cursed, the result would be a perpetuation and a sanction of this most enormous evil. As to the surveillance of the Government upon a consolidated company, it was a mere façon de parler—an official evasion; for every one was aware how utterly inefficient any such surveillance would be. And he regretted that the Government had not rather resorted to the plan of an incorporation of the metropolitan parishes, and the formation of a board (in which each parish would have a voice) for the management of the supply, the raising of the funds, and the distribution of the water—thus securing, what was the real thing to be desired, that the distribution of the supply should be conducted under the responsibility of the consumers. As to compensation, it would be difficult to separate the real capital from the fictitious and the adventitious. It was, however, perhaps more important to remark, that if the Government were to be hampered with the existing machinery of the companies—if the Government resorted to a fresh supply of water—that machinery would be a heavy and useless burden upon them; and this consideration would be in itself a dangerous inducement to adhere to the existing impure supply.


said, he had been asked if the Government had consulted the Metropolitan Sanitary Association. He had to answer that, although the Government had not consulted any member of the Association, yet they had received from it, from time to time, full statements of its views, and had those views before them when the subject was under consideration. As to the Board of Health, the Government had in their possession the report of the hoard, and the evidence upon which it was founded, and had communicated personally with the noble Lord the Member for Bath (Lord Ashley), informing him of the measure which was to be introduced. He desired to observe that he had drawn a distinction between companies exercising, merely by mutual arrangement, an absolute monopoly, without any control from Parliament, deriving their supply from any water at their own discretion, charging any rates they pleased—and such companies as were placed under effective Parliamentary control, deriving their water from sources not objected to. As to a new source of supply, he had stated that he deemed it of the greatest importance that the water should be drawn from the best possible source. [Mr. MOWATT: What source?] The Government had duly considered the evidence upon which the Board of Health had recommended the total abandonment of every existing source of supply, and that recourse should be had entirely to new sources of supply; and had also considered the conflicting evidence given before the Committee last Session on the subject; and the Government were not satisfied, so far as to say that there should be an entire abandonment of existing sources of supply (except the Thames, as to which there could be no doubt) which would entail very great expense, but which, at the same time, the Government did not conceal from themselves might be necessary; but they had thought it right to resort to every means of information before expressing any decisive opinion to Parliament on the subject. There was a power to be given to the Secretary of State to select a new supply from any source which the result of inquiries might show to be desirable. The report of such inquiries would be laid before Parliament, and could then be considered. He had stated that he conceived the best plan to adopt would be to place the administration of water supply in the hands of a municipal corporation (if it existed) or some body analogous to it (if it could be created)—but he had pointed out the difficulties existing in the way of such a course in London. And indeed there was no necessity for a Bill to incorporate a company for the purpose, since under the Municipal Corporation Act there was a clause by which large towns, including London, might apply to the Queen in Council for a corporation, and this could be considered, with any objections to it, without any application to Parliament; this course had been adopted in towns like Manchester and Sheffield, and he should be glad if it could be adopted here. With regard to compensation, there was nothing to justify the assumption that it would be assessed on any extravagant scale, or on any improper principle. Mere competition, where the companies were not precluded from carrying on their supply, would be no reason for compensation. But if the Government said to companies, "You who have, on the authority of Acts of Parliament, invested capital in a certain supply, shall no longer be suffered to continue it," that would surely be a case for compensation. The details of the Bill certainly required consideration, and would receive such consideration in a Select Committee.


said, there was a rumour that the parties to be compensated had drawn the compensation clauses—was that so? Or had the members of the Board of Health been consulted?


I have answered the question already.

Leave given; Bill ordered to be brought iii by Sir George Grey, Lord Seymour and Mr. Bouverie.