HC Deb 17 June 1852 vol 122 cc839-63

Order for Committee read.


said, that he should not have thought it necessary to say a single word in moving that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair for the House to go into Committee upon the Metropolis Water Supply Bill, had it not been for the notice given of an Amendment by the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Mowatt). He merely wished to observe, that the Bill now stood as a Bill introduced by the noble Lord his predecessor (Lord Seymour), and amended by the Committee to which it had been referred. The House would therefore see that the Government did not hold themselves entirely responsible for all that the Bill contained; but they did believe it would effect a very great improvement on the present system of supplying water to the metropolis. In one respect the Bill was of very great importance, for it introduced the principle of Government interference and control in reference to that subject.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


in proceeding to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, said he was anxious to explain that, while no one was more sensible than he was of the great inconvenience attending a discussion of such a kind as that on which he was about to enter, in the present state of public business, and in the prospect of an immediate dissolution, he reconciled himself to the duty he had to perform by the reflection that it was evident the public out of doors had not the least conception of the real character or provisions of this Bill, It was calculated to affect so vitally the interests of the mass of the community in the whole metropolis, that he could not allow it to pass through that House, even under the circumstances to which he had alluded, without at least pointing the attention of Members, who might not have been led to consider the question, to the extraordinary character of the Bill, or rather, he should say, to the extraordinary deficiencies or omissions of a Bill professing to settle a question which had agitated the public mind more or less for the last twenty-five years. He was confident that the Gentlemen composing the Committee on the Bill had not a just appreciation of what would he the effects of the measure; and, without meaning the slightest disrespect, or casting any imputation on the capabilities of the Members who sat on that Committee, it was easy to explain why that was almost as a matter of necessity. So those Gentlemen, unlike the Committee of last Session, were not appointed to consider the whole question, and to report such a plan as, after due inquiry, they might think best suited to meet the emergencies of the case. Not at all. This Bill, together with a number of Private Bills, had been submitted to them by the Government, seeking additional immunities, privileges, and extensions of existing powers, solely that they might say yes or no to them; and he apprehended that those Gentlemen had confined themselves strictly to their legitimate province in simply reporting in favour of the Bills in question. He would further remind the House, that the public were not represented before that Committee. The public had no standing at all, though one of the two parties most interested in the proposed compact. In those facts he found a justification for forcing himself on the attention of the House, while he recapitulated and repeated—for he was willing to admit there was nothing new in the question—some of the many objections which had not been considered by the Government or the Committee to the arrangements contemplated by the Bill. He should endeavour to confine himself to the loading facts of the case; for to substantiate fully what he could most satisfactorily prove, would require an entire morning's sitting, so voluminous were the statements, so numerous the facts, which had to he taken into consideration, before arriving at a mature decision. The two or three cardinal points, to which he wished to call attention, were simply these: what was it that the inhabitants of the metropolis had complained of for the last twenty-five years? They complained, first, of the sources of supply for water: that had been a subject of complaint from the establishment of the companies. The second great grievance was the mode of distribution; and the third, to which he regretted that so much importance, speaking relatively, was attached, was the price. He said he regretted that so much importance was attached to that point, because be looked upon it himself as a secondary matter; but last year the vestries, while they went with him in all other respects with reference to the remedial Bill that he had introduced on this subject, would not co-operate with him in his attempt to carry that Bill, because the price proposed in it was greater than they thought they ought to be called on to pay. If the House would bear in mind these three points—the source of supply, the mode of distribution, and the price charged, and would then go into the consideration of this Bill, they would find that all three were touched in so slight a degree as to involve an aggravation, he feared, of the evil, and an aggravation for this reason, that if matters remained as they now were, it would no doubt be necessary to legislate in the next Parliament on these very grounds; whereas, if a measure were now enacted, it could not be supposed that the next Parliament, or the next twenty Parliaments, would interfere with the matter. First, in regard to the question of the sources of supply, he could appeal to the right hon. Baronet, who had devoted himself so much to the consideration of this subject last year, and whom he was glad to see in his place (Sir James Graham), as well as to every Gentleman present at the proceedings of the Committee which then sat, whether the question of supply, as against the Thames, was not already a settled and decided question? Taking some twenty authorities, who had given their opinion the last few years, be found that there were only two out of that number who had any doubts as to the Thames not being a fit source of supply. He should like to read those authorities, but felt himself placed in this disadvantageous position, that, for the reasons already assigned, he could not then do so, and yet he could not without great injury to the cause he represented pass them over altogether, and would consequently refer to some few of them. The work from which he was going to quote had been submitted, he believed, to the Committee on this Bill, as it was to the Committee of last year. It was a work of which the Board of Health had spoken highly, but not more so than it deserved. He alluded to a report by Dr. Angus Smith, to whom bad been referred by the Metropolitan Sanitary Commission the specific question, whether by ascending the Thames, the objections to the use of water from that river, could be removed. Dr. Angus Smith devoted the most untiring attention and zeal to the inquiry, and he gave his facts and authorities, rather than opinions of his own, so as to enable others to judge for themselves. The views of five or six of the authorities to which he attached most importance, might be recapitulated. He took first the statement of Dr. Trotter, one of the first to draw the attention of the public to the condition of the water, as, independently of other objections to which it was open, being so saturated with animal and vegetable matter, that no process of filtration could render it subsequently fit for human consumption. Dr. Trotter said— No water carried to sea becomes sooner putrid (than Thames water.) When a cask is opened after being kept a month or two, a quantity of inflammable air escapes, and the water is so black and offensive as scarcely to be borne. Upon racking it off into large earthen vessels, and exposing it to the air, it gradually deposits a quantity of black slimy mud, and becomes clean. Hon. Members might say they had heard that over and over again—that there was nothing new in the statement; but, under the circumstances of the case, he (Mr. Mowatt) was under the disagreeable necessity of obtruding such facts as these again on the attention of the House. The next authority was Mr. Thomas, who described Thames water as— A fluid loaded with impurities, and on a more minute analysis found saturated with decayed vegetable matter, and other substances equally deleterious. The next opinion cited was that of Dr. Hooper; for these were not witnesses like the witnesses brought up before Committees by hundreds, whose opinion was of no value whatever, but who, according as they received a fee, tendered an opinion on the one side or the other, and even did so to the same Committee. Dr. Hooper said, "At one time it was not only filthy in appearance, but had an unwholesome smell." The pith of Mr. Brodie's opinion was, that "it was manifestly impure, and, from the quantity of foreign matters which it con- tained, must, he conceived, be unwholesome, and altogether unfit for culinary purposes. "Dr. Paris" could not find terms to express the awful effects it might be likely to produce upon the health, and even the lives, of the inhabitants." Dr. James Johnson said— It is absolutely astonishing that in these days of refinement, and in a metropolis whose inhabitants pride themselves on delicacy and cleanliness, a practice should obtain at which posterity will shudder, if they can credit it. A time must come when the people of London will open their eyes to this scene of corruption, veiled as it is by iron pipes and stone pavements. There were a great many others who expressed similar opinions; there were, as he had already remarked, twenty eminent men who were unanimous, with the exception of two—who thought by filtration more might be done than others thought possible by that means—in the belief that under no circumstances could the Thames water ever be made fit for the consumption of human beings. Commissioners were appointed some years back to make inquiry; and those Commissioners, Dr. Ro-get, Mr. Brande, and Mr. Telford, summed up their report as follows:— Assuming the supplies to be derived directly from the river, and to be subjected to no intermediate process tending to purification, it is sufficiently obvious that the state of the weather will materially affect the purity of the water"— (This had relation to the substances brought down by heavy rains or floods, the animal matter and feces, of which other authorities spoke) —"which is sometimes comparatively clean and clear, and at others loaded with various matters in mechanical suspension, rendering it more or less turbid and coloured. In the latter state, when thrown into cisterns and other receptacles of houses, it is manifestly unfit for immediate use; but after being allowed to rest, it forms a certain quantity of deposit, and thus may become sufficiently clear for ordinary purposes. This deposit, however, is the source of several evils. It renders the cisterns foul, and runs off into those pipes which issue from or near the bottom of the reservoirs. By the agitation which accompanies every fresh influx of water, this deposit is constantly stirred up, and becomes a renewed source of contamination to the whole mass; and, although chiefly consisting of earthy substances in a state of minute division, it is apt also to contain such proportion of orgauic matters as will occasion a degree of putrefaction when collected in any quantity, and especially in warm weather. He would suppose that the argument he was urging might be met with the answer, that the Bill did in part make provision for remedying the evil by providing for filtration. Dr. Lambe, who subjected Thames water to an examination with reference to organic matters, and those qualities which filtration did not remove, said— The object of this memoir is to prove that the water of the river Thames, whether taken up in the vicinity of London, as high up the river as Windsor, or at an intermediate point, as above Twickenham, is impregnated with matter of this description. The presence of organic matter in water often becomes evident to the senses without the aid of chemical analysis, for they are apt to inhale a fetid odour. In this respect, the water of the Thames at London is highly objectionable; but even at Windsor, though the water itself was not offensive, the matter left on evaporation had a disgusting and disagreeable smell. Dr. Lambe then went on to give his facts, with which it was unnecessary to trouble the House, because, they were mainly of the nature of the statements, which would be contained in a chemical analysis on the report of a chemist; but Dr. Lambe used this extraordinary language, to which he (Mr. Mowatt) invited the attention of the noble Lord who had charge of the Bill, because allusion was made in the words he was about to quote to the only remedy which the promoters of this Bill effected, or thought proper to apply to the existing evil, that of going higher up the stream above Teddington; and some objections to the water being removed on its way downwards, as it became less hard. Dr. Lambe said— Concluding from these observations that I should find the river less loaded the higher I went up, I was resolved to examine it at a considerable distance from London, and accordingly procured that which I call Teddington water, which must be the same in quality, and which is the point from which it has been proposed that the supply for the metropolis should be taken. The event, however, proved quite contrary to my expectations;"— (He had no bias against that water, but on the contrary had set out with impressions in its favour;) for this water gave a residuum of 122 grains, of which 92 were insoluble, and 30 soluble matter (that is, 20.3 grains per gallon). According to this experiment, then, the Teddington water was more loaded with foreign matter even that taken from below Blackfriars-bridge. In subsequent parts of his statement he went on to show how that was accounted for. The London shipmasters, when they could not obtain perfectly pure water, preferred taking it very foul, so as to ensure its undergoing the process of fermentation by which it purified itself; but the water which was not so loaded with foreign matter, as to bring on that fermentation retained and exercised its injurious properties on the inhabitants of the metropolis. He could have wished to show stop by step, what was perfectly demonstrable, and incontrovertible, that so long as water was taken from the Thames, the evil could not be abated; but he besought the House to take this common-sense view of the case, the Thames, from Oxford downwards, was the great sewer of the country through which it ran. All the impurities, all the drainage, of the population was deposited therein. It was as completely the main sewer of the country through which it ran, as any arched or subterranean conduits or pipes which discharged the duty of main sewers in London. There was a ludicrous statement of this fact in a report of the Board of Health, with reference to the constant complaint of owners of land in the valley of the Thames, that the great bulk of the manure which they spread over their lands, was swept into and carried down by the river. He would sum up what he had to say on this head, by reading the concluding part of the Report of the General Board of Health in 1850:?— We must state, as our conclusion upon this topic of inquiry, that if the water of the Thames could be early protected from the sewerage of all the towns draining into it, and from the sewerage of the metropolis—if it could be purified from animal and vegetable matter as completely as deep well water, or as some of the surface water from the chalk districts, as proposed by Captain Vetch, we should neverthless feel compelled, upon tin-evidence recited, to pronounce water of such degree of hardness to be ineligible for the supply of the metropolis. That he might not be open to the charge of reading any unfairly selected portion of that Report, lie bogged to state that this part of it alluded to another grand objection which applied to the water of the Thames, namely, the quantity of lime it contained. He ventured to say, that probably not many Gentlemen even in that House were fully aware of the fact, which had been demonstrated over and over again, by the most unquestionable authorities, and might be so in 24 hours, that, independently of the animal and vegetable matter, which was contained in the water of the Thames, that water had a defect which alone would render it unfit for use by human beings, namely, its extreme amount of hardness, arising from the large quantity of lime held in solution in it. Besides the abominations to which he had referred, there were 16 grains of carbonate of lime in every gallon of the water, which was equal to 26 tons of lime in a single day's supply of 44 millions of gallons to the metropolis. That was an incontrovertible fact, in proof of which he might mention, that all the water companies set to work employing chemists to make analyses, when this astounding fact was first published; but when he told the House that none of them had thought fit to publish the results of such analyses, he thought they would admit that the fair conclusion to be drawn was, that they admitted that the statement could not be contradicted. That circumstance guaranteed the authenticity of the statement. The question of hardness involved other momentous considerations, besides that of merely rendering water less fit for the purposes of ablution, the washing of clothes, and the like. He was almost afraid to state the amount of the injury, measured in money, which it was calculated to inflict on the metropolis; but some estimates carried it as high as 3,000,000l. The effect was felt in malt, hops, dyes, in whatever required to be held in solution by water; and when one reflected on the number of substances which required to be so treated, it would be perceived at a glance to what a great extent the hardness of the water would prove detrimental, to what an extent the continuation of the supply from the Thames imposed taxation on the community—a taxation the more injurious because it fell on those who were least able to bear it, and who indeed were generally ignorant of the extent of it. If the noble Lord noticed that fatal and grand objection—that objection which would not be cured, it was to be hoped he would state why the Government persisted in acting, either as though it had not been thoroughly established, or as if they too were ignorant of it. People out of doors had not the least conception of what would be the immediate and instantaneous effect of the Bill, especially with reference to the question of price. But with him (Mr. Mowatt) the purity of the sources of supply was a still more important question. To justify his dwelling on this part of the subject, he would remind the House of what the Registrar General told them once a year—and if there were an epidemic, once a quarter—that between 15,000 and 16,000 deaths took place annually in London, which were clearly treaceable to preventible causes; and that to the quality of water, and the condition of sewerage, the greatest proportion was attributable. What were the specific grounds which induced the Govern- ment to shut their eyes to the real facts of the case, and within the last week of the Session, when the subject could not receive the consideration it deserved, to force this Bill into law, and thereby, as it were, to cushion this question for ever? Reverting to the Report of the Board of Health, he would read from it one more extract, hearing still on the question of quality and the objections to the Thames as a source of permanent supply, in which it was stated that— The river Thames and its tributaries, which are largely derived from land springs through chalk strata, are varied in quality by the surface flood waters. The presence of these surface flood waters is made known to the population by the particularly turbid state in which the water is delivered. Much of this turbidity is occasioned by animal and vegetable matter so completely in chemical solution, that, as several witnesses have stated, the common strainers or filters will not remove it. It is also the complaint of agriculturists, that much of the manure applied to the land, as well as the finer particles of soil, are swept away by heavy rains into the ditches and natural watercourses. The deposit of surface particles of inorganic, mixed with a large proportion of organic matter, detained by the filtration of Thames water from above Battersea, amounts, in the reservoirs of the Vauxhall Company, to more than a foot in depth per annum. There was another paragraph so pithy at the close of the Report that he could not abstain from inviting the attention of the country out of doors, as well as that of the House, to that part of the subject to which it related. As an additional motive for taking that course, he might have mentioned, that not only had the public, as before stated, no locus standi before the Committee, but it had been repeatedly stated in public, and being left altogether unnoticed and unanswered, he must assume that the fact was so, that no less then seventjr Members of that House were interested in the existing Companies. Supposing that were the case, he might be asked if there were not as many interested in railway companies? There was, however, this difference, that railway companies were a check on each other—they were in competition with one another. But it was not so with the water companies. Since the termination, in 1817, of the contest among the water companies, the metropolis had been parcelled out among them as completely as if it were a private domain. The great Powers at the congress of Vienna did not divide Europe among themselves so completely as the water companies had the metropolis. Was there any competition, for instance, between the Lambeth and Southwark companies, although each had laid the district of the other to some extent with its own pipes? The House would bear with him for dwelling on that point, seeing the public had no person to represent their interest before the Committee on the Bill, and so large a portion of the House were on private grounds interested adversely. Nay, so all-powerful had this interest become, that it appeared even to have paralysed the opposition of the public press of late days, with the single exception of the Times. Formerly all the metropolitan papers made the subject of our water supply a theme of constant animadversion and complaint; but of late, with the one exception alluded to, all advocated the cause of these great and most obnoxious monopolies. At any other time he would not have made an apology for detaining the House considering the vastness of the interests at stake; as it was, nobody could be more unwilling to obstruct their arrival at that point to which they were looking forward with so great anxiety; but the subject was of such vital moment to the millions of the metropolis that he considered it justified his present interposition. The Board of Health repeat, in their concluding resolutions:— 1. That for domestic use it (the Thames water) is inferior to the average quality of water supplied to towns. 2. That its inferiority as a supply for domestic use arises chiefly from an excess of hardness. Though they dwelt on the abomination of animal and vegetable matter, they yet thought the quantity of lime gave it a degree of hardness which was positively a still greater objection to its use. They proceeded to say— 3. That even when taken above the reach of pollution from the sewers of the metropolis, it contains an excess, varying with the season, of animal and vegetable matter. They went on to say that other streams from which the metropolis was in part supplied, were no better than the Thames. It might be said it was all very well to point out those radical defects in the Bill; but where was there an available remedy to be found? He himself spoke with less confidence on that point, though he had read a great deal of evidence on the subject. The opinion of Professor Copeland, Captain Vetch, and the Hon. Mr. Napier, were embodied in the Report of the Board of Health. They said there were waters superior in quality to be had, which were not liable to any of the vital objections that applied to the water of the Thames, and which could he introduced at a mere fraction of the expense incurred for the supply from that polluted source. It was obvious to common sense that, as pointed out by those eminent chemists to whom he had referred, as well as by the Board of Health, it must be better, as a general rule, to take our sources of supply from the tops of hills, where possible, than to go to the bottoms of valleys, which operated as in the case of the Thames, as mere sewers and drains to the surrounding and adjacent country. Two Governments successively, not having thought of going to the Surrey hills, or any of the other five or six sources within reach, from which London might be supplied with water absolutely pure in all respects at one-fourth or one-fifth the price now paid for the present impure supply; there must be some objection, some want of faith on their part, which had induced them to shut out the facts relating to these new sources from their cognisance, and to abstain from dealing with the subject in any way in connexion. In passing, he might observe, that the reason why the public apparently were taking no interest in the Bill, was, that it had not been subjected to the ordeal of discussion that usually took place on the second reading of a Bill, He had seen it remarked upon with satisfaction, that it had passed the second reading without opposition, whereas the simple fact was, that on that occasion no description of it had been given. He wished to hear some explanation on a proceeding which seemed so extraordinary. He (Mr. Mowatt) would now advert to the second object, the distribution of the supply of water in the metropolis, which was admitted by the noble Lord below him (Lord Seymour) to be second in importance only to the point already considered. The Bill professed to provide a remedy in part; but that remedy was so insufficient, that it would probably fail altogether. He (Mr. Mowatt) could point out two objections to the existing mode of supply, which no provision had been introduced to meet, He had some American authorities, to show what immense expense it was there thought necessary to incur, for the purpose of getting over the difficulties to which he referred. The supply of water in London, for the mere convenience of the companies, and to save them expense, was carried just under the surface of the earth only, so that the water was subjected to all the alternations of the temperature of the atmosphere: however perfect the supply of water when it entered the main, it was deteriorated in quality by means of the temperature, which exercised great influence over it. No provision was made in the Bill to require that in future the mains should be laid deeper; and when the companies could have the necessary repairs to their pipes effected all the more economically that they lay close to the surface of the ground, they did not care to incur greater expense by laying those mains deeper of themselves, when it was the public convenience and advantage alone that would be thereby benefited. Another objection was, that the companies only brought their water in one main pipe through the streets, leaving the inhabitants to convey it to their houses by leaden pipes, which imposed upon them a charge probably tenfold greater than the Companies Mould have incurred, had they been required to deliver the water within the houses. There were a great many other objections to the machinery of the Bill, but, as he should have an opportunity of entering into the details in Committee, he would not now trespass further on the attention of the House. With regard to the subject of distribution, however, he hoped the noble Lord would state to the House the reasons, if there were any, why the water supply could not be connected with tint drainage of the metropolis. Every engineer who had given evidence bore testimony to the vast economy, the immense advantage, and, indeed, the absolute necessity of combining the two undertakings. They reasoned thus: Supposing you had the command of the finest supply of water imaginable for the metropolis—an unexceptionable river, for instance—surely, before introducing it into the metropolis, you must determine how, by what system of sewerage, you will subsequently dispose of it, after it shall have served the first purposes of the inhabitants; otherwise it may become, not only a great evil, but an intolerable nuisance. The association with which he (Mr. Mowatt) was connected, and by whom the Bill that he had introduced had been prepared, had consequently, very early in their deliberations, come to the conclusion that the two services of water supply and drainage were, in all aspects, to be considered as inseparable. He might add. that to all who had reflected on the subject, it was obvious too that the sewage substances would go far to defray, if not entirely cover, the expense of both services. Ships were now going all round the world for guano, while every chemist, if not their own common observation, would tell them, that in the sewage matter of Loudon they possessed an ample supply of manure, equally good. By the sewerage being united with the water supply, it would greatly improve the health of the metropolis, which suffered much from its humid climate. He called upon the noble Lord who was responsible for the Bill, to explain why it was that he had taken no note of that fact, seeing that it was impossible economically to deal with one branch of the subject without dealing with the other. He now came to the question of price. He must say, with all deference to the Committee, that they had been completely outwitted by the water companies, in the compromise which had been come to on the subject of price. All the existing Acts gave the Companies the power to take from the metropolis no less than from five to seven and a half per cent upon the rental of each house respectively, for the supply of water; and the Companies, parading this fact before the Committee and the public, took great credit for moderation, in consenting that their charges should be limited under the new Bills to four and five per cent upon the rentals. gut to appreciate the amount of sacrifice actually made by the Companies, it should be understood, that in no single case had they ever charged 7½ per cent, or 6 or 5 per cent, and that generally they charged rates varying between 2 and 3½per cent only; consequently, as by their new Acts they would have the power, and as it was well understood they now purposed to make use of it to its fullest extent—as the only means of obtaining what they considered an adequate return on the great additional amount of capital they were by these same Acts authorised to raise and expend—of charging in the first instance, 5 per cent in the case of one company, and 4 per cent in all the others, for what was termed an ordinary supply of water; and additional sums for water for other purposes equally necessary, such as for water-closets, baths, &c, for which, under the existing Acts, no separate charge has been made: So far from the Companies making any actual concessions to the public, they are about to charge, or take the powers to charge, which is tantamount to the same thing, very much higher rates than they have ever done before, in many cases amounting to 50 per cent more than is at present paid. As an illustration, he (Mr. Mowatt) would cite the instance of his own house, No. 14, Devonshire Place. Its annual value might be taken at 250l., and he was supplied by the West Middlesex Company. They charged him for ordinary service, 5l., for high service, 2l. 10s.; for stable, 1l. 10s. in all 9l. per annum—whereas, under their new Act, he would be liable, for ordinary service at 3 per cent, 7l. 10s.; first water-closet, 10s.; for three others at 5s., 15s.; a bath, 10s.; in all, 9l. 5s., to which is to be added, high service, at 25 per cent on the above, 2l. 6s. 3d., and for stable any sum the company choose; but supposing that they only charge what they now receive, that will be 1l. 10s. more; and as the company are also authorised to charge specially for washing a carriage, supposing that they demand a like sum of 1l. 10s., that will make the total 14l. 11s. 3d., or upwards of 60 per cent increase upon the price he now paid for his water! In the present state of the Session he would abstain from any other comment on- this contemplated change, than, that he felt certain the public had no idea of its nature and extent, and, above all, that they had no conception of the outrageous enhancement of the price of this element of life, to which they were about to be subjected. In proof of this, he had only to remark, that although the Ratepayers' Bill, of which he had taken the charge in that House, was in all other respects extremely popular, yet had the parochial bodies, simply on the ground that the power of levying rates to the extent of 5 per cent on the rental of the metropolis—to provide for an entirely fresh source of water supply, compensation to the existing Companies, and a new system of trunk drainage—was too large and extensive to be entrusted with safety to any body, even although that body, as in that case, would have been nominated by themselves, ultimately declined to give it their support, and it was in consequence abandoned. In other words, they threw up what might be called their own Bill on the subject, rather than be exposed to the possibility of paying for a perfect system of water supply and drainage, less than what they would be compelled to pay for the present wretched supply of water but partially improved, alone. He (Mr. Mowatt) must add, however, that it was not merely the excessive price that the inhabitants of the metropolis were to be charged for water, that was to be deprecated; but a greater evil still, if that were possible, would be inflicted on society by the passing of these Acts, from the mode in which this outrageous price was to be collected from the people. Not satisfied with four and five per cent on the rental of houses, the Companies were to be allowed, under these Bills, to demand a specific and separate payment for each water-closet, and each bath in every house, amounting in many instances to no less than 10s. for each of those necessities of civilised life; a sum so large that it would have the effect, doubtless, in numerous cases, of compelling the inhabitants to deny themselves the use of these conveniences, so absolutely indispensable to cleanliness, health, and decency. Just let the House reflect for a moment on the impolicy, the cruelty, he might say, the inhumanity, of such a tax as this! Why, he (Mr. Mowatt) considered that of all the monstrous modes that had ever been suggested of raising money, that of permitting joint-stock companies to do so, for the mere purpose of gain, by a tax on water-closets and baths in the metropolis, was, without exception, the most barbarous and revolting. It was in fact a tax on health and decency, and a premium for filth and brutality. It should be observed, too, that there was no reasonable plea or excuse for this additional and disgusting charge on the part of the Companies. They had stated that it was simply to reimburse them for the extra expense they had incurred in raising a largo quantity of water to a greater height than would otherwise be requisite; but this was altogether a fiction. The Report of 1850 of the Board of Health, from which he had already several times quoted, showed most distinctly that this notion of any great additional outlay, on this ground, was entirely erroneous. It showed, for instance, that in cases where the Companies had exacted from 10s. to 1l. for delivering water at a given height, the actual cost of raising it to the highest parts of houses for the whole year did not exceed 1d.; and, again, that the real extra cost of pumping water to the high-service height seldom exceeded 2d. for 400 tons, or 100,000 gallons; and yet by these Bills the Companies would be entitled to charge 9d. for each single thousand gallons, or, in other words, 3l. 15s. for what cost them 2d. In like manner the Report showed that the water for each water-closet, for which these Companies are to be allowed to demand 10s., could on an average be supplied for little more than one farthing per annum. Well may the Report, therefore, go on to say that one of the consequences resulting from the abandonment to trading companies of the water supply is, that the inhabitants are charged, not according to the cost of the service, or the article they receive, but simply in proportion to their necessities, and to the powers of exaction for supplying them. In fact, the only limit to their demands is the cost at which water can be obtained by band labour. To sum up what he had to say on this branch of the subject, he (Mr. Mowatt) would now cite a passage from the Report, showing what the cost of water supply and drainage to the metropolis might be reduced to, under an improved system, relieved from the baneful influence of joint-stock trading companies. The Report stated that— The total of the several estimates presented of combined and complete works, consisting of public works of water supply, with mains, service pipes, and apparatus to houses, public works of mains, intercepting and discharge lines of drainage, branch, house, and subsoil drains, sinks, traps, and dustbins, the soil-pans, engine power, together with the current expenditure on pumping to effect both a constant water supply and constant drainage; surface cleansing of streets and courts, and the relief of the Thames from its pollutions, would thus give, under combined management and extended contracts, an average charge per house over the whole of the metropolis of about 5d. per week; a sum less than the present average charge for a duibyiwcinnl' paviiial water supply alone. Now if these calculations were anything like well founded—and coming from such an authority they were entitled to great respect—surely the House must perceive that by sanctioning these Bills they were about to inflict evils of the most serious and grave character upon the metropolis—evils that could scarcely be estimated by any money consideration, but which went directly to affect the physical, social, and moral condition of the people, in the most fearful and injurious manner, bearing most oppressively too on the poorest and most helpless classes. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds had observed that the East London Company's Bill, which allowed them to claim five per cent upon the rental of houses, besides the extra charges for water-closets, baths, &c, was an exceptional case. He (Mr. Mowatt) thought it indeed ought to he so, but in a very different sense from that in which it had been treated by the Committee. Considering that it supplied the very poorest classes of the metropolis, it ought to have been more restricted in its charges than any of the other companies; whereas it was permitted to exact nearly twenty per cent more than all others. Was this not most harsh, most unfair? He (Mr. Mow-att) was for his part an advocate for making the houses of the wealthy pay a portion, if not all, of the cost of supplying water to the poorer inhabitants, for he believed that by this mode the rich would be by no means the losers, but rather the gainers, seeing that it would have the effect of improving the sanatory condition of the metropolis generally, and warding off sickness and epidemics from themselves. It would, in fact, be an economical mode of paying their own doctor's bills, for nothing was better understood now than that the health of the wealthier classes of the metropolis was to a very great extent dependent on the sanitary condition of the poorest portion of it. It was with the latter that cholera and its concomitants generally originated, spreading afterwards to the classes above it successively. The only objection that could be urged against this system of rating was, that in many instances it would operate for the benefit only of landlords who were not needy—of owners of house property. The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) had said, why not have stated these objections to the Companies' Bills at the time they were all before the House. His answer was, that in the first place so little notice had been given, that they had passed without his being aware of it, and altogether without discussion; and, in the next place, because the noble Lord had given notice that he would, in the Government Bill now under their consideration, introduce a clause restrictive of the powers taken by the Companies in their different Acts for levying rates, and on which he (Mr. Mowatt) relied for remedying the defects in those Acts, quoad the price to be charged the community for water; but now that those Acts had all passed, the noble Lord had withdrawn his notices of amendments, and thus left the metropolis entirely to the mercies of those Companies. This he thought was doing great injustice to the metropolis, and he (Mr. Mowatt) was confident, he repeated, that the public had no correct notion of what would be the effect upon themselves of these Bills. He felt sure they were not prepared to have the cost of water increased upon them. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "No, no!" but he contended there was no doubt that under these Bills they would be compelled to pay a higher price. Why, the single fact that by them the Companies were empowered to raise and expend 130,000l more, would of necessity entail, in the shape of interest on all this additional capital, great extra cost to the inhabitants. The Companies now levied on the metropolis 440,000l. per annum; and when they had laid out this additional money there was no doubt they would raise their rates to 600,000l. at least. On the whole, therefore, for the reasons he had assigned, and for many others that under the circumstances he was obliged to suppress, he (Mr. Mowatt) thought it would be better, much as he admitted legislation was needed on the subject, to defer the further consideration of this Bill to the next Session, when the time necessary for dealing properly and effectually with this vexed social question could be afforded. This delay, although an evil in itself, would be preferable to the crude and hasty enactment with which it was now proposed to remedy the present deplorable state of things. The present Bill would have the effect of conferring a fresh lease of life; indeed he was afraid he might say a perpetual legalised existence to these great trading-in-water Companies—a greater injury than which to the metropolis he could not imagine—and, in fact, of cushioning all complaints against the present system, as it were, for ever. If he thought that the Bill was susceptible of such an amount of improvement in Committee as would make it bearable, he would not have objected to that course being taken; but seeing that its principle was objectionable in the highest degree, that it was radically defective, too, in the essentials of such a measure, and that it omitted all provisions for the great evils under which the metropolis had so long suffered, he felt that the only proper course he could take was to object to proceed now any farther with the Bill, believing, as he did, that the inhabitants of the metropolis would rather tolerate their present grievances a few months longer, and await an opportunity of obtaining effectual and permanent relief from them, than adopt a measure which will preclude all prospect of real redress.


begged to claim the attention of the House for a few minutes. He must say that the conduct of Her Majesty's Government with regard to this Bill was very extraordinary. A Bill, like this, of great importance, affecting the interests of 2,500,000 inhabitants, was read a second time, as a matter of course, at a late hour of night. Not the opponents of the Bill, therefore, but Her Majesty's Government, were responsible, if they were obliged to take the discussion on the only opportunity which had been afforded to them during the present Session. It was in the first instance pronounced that a schedule of rates and charges should be introduced, so as to establish a uniform charge upon the inhabitants; hut that was withdrawn. Subsequently, clauses were introduced with the view of compelling the companies to compete against each other. Those were withdrawn. A number of private Bills had been brought forward by different Companies, and had been passed, he and those who concurred with him protesting at the time that they acquiesced in those Bills merely because they did not wish to raise any discussion until a public measure should be brought forward that was to deal with the whole question, He himself had applied to the House on behalf of a society consisting of bishops, noble Lords, and literary men, to be heard before the Committee, but he was refused; and the consequence was, that the Committee had had no opportunity of getting at the truth except when the witnesses brought forward by the several Companies differed among themselves, and it was remarkable how much they did contradict and controvert one another. For instance, while some of the chemists called spoke of the beneficial effects of filtration on the water supplied, in removing much, though of course it could not remove all, of the various foreign substances mixed up in it; one chemist—called, of course, by a non-filtering Company—deposed to the worse than useiessness of the filtering beds established by the other Companies, as adding a taint of organic slime to the water passed through them. He would not say that the statements of the witnesses examined before the Committee were false; but they were coloured, and tinged with the bias they received from the interested parties by whom they were engaged. A very eminent scientific man had declined to appear before any such Committee, because, he said, it placed him in a false position, the party who engaged him expecting that he would give his testimony with a bias in their favour, while it was his own desire to speak the plain truth, and give his evidence without any bias whatever. But that was not the only ground of his objection to the Bill. It appeared to him to be distinctly a retrograde step from the consolidation of administrative arrangements to which legislation had latterly tended, and that, too, with such remarkable success. It was perfectly obvious that to place the cognate functions of drainage and water supply under different administrations must lead to an unnecessary waste of time, trouble, and expense. An ample supply of water was a blessing to any district when there was a sufficient drainage, but it became a positive nuisance when there was no drainage at all. The House well knew the remarkable effects produced in many districts both in England and abroad by artificial drainage, by pumping out the superfluous water. What must be the consequences in similar places of the opposite course of pumping water in? For want of these means the district south of the Thames was saturated with wet, and the health of the inhabitants suffered very much in consequence. But they had not only a priori reasoning in favour of such a consolidated administrative arrangement for drainage and water supply; they had a remarkable concurrence of authorities. The Report of the Health of Towns Commissioners, at the head of which was the Duke of Buccleuch, the Duke of Newcastle, and others equally eminent; the Metropolitan Sanitary Commission; a vast mass of engineering and other witnesses; several of the leading organs of public opinion, periodical and daily; the Towns Improvement Act, passed by Parliament; the Public Health Act; and, lastly, they had not merely this concurrence of authority—they had the results of actual experience in favour of it. The practice of the country demonstrated its advantages. Town after town had its local boards administering the combined functions of water supply and drainage, of which there was one most satisfactory example, Croydon, within twenty miles of the place they were now sitting in, where a most efficient system of combined drainage and water supply was now in operation at less than half the rates imposed on the metropolis. The Bill, however, did not even consolidate the different Water Companies under (me management. Like the wiser, but still defective Bill of last year, which equally continued the separation between the management of the drainage and water supply, this miserably retrograde Bill before the House left each Company its separate staff, though it was admitted by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and by Mr. Quick—the Chairman and the Engineer of the largest Water Companies—not to mention any other witnesses, that no less than 65,000l. a year would be saved in establishment charges, if the water supply alone were consolidated under one management. The next objection which he had was, that the supply of a prime necessity of life was left by the Bill, as at present, to be a subject for the rapacity of private traders. He objected also to the miserable quality of the supply proposed. The witnesses who spoke to the purity of the Thames water, had, in his opinion, utterly failed to make out their case. It was proved that the water of the Thames was full of feculent matter, and that it emitted a most offensive odour. The Thames even above Teddington was the main drain of a populous district, containing more than half a million of inhabitants; but even if the water there were free from organic matter, which it notoriously was not, its hardness was not to be denied; indeed it was rather greater there than lower down the stream. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen were not aware of the expense occasioned by the hardness of water used for domestic purposes. It had been calculated that the laundresses' bills in the metropolis amounted to 5,000,000l or 6,000,000l. annually. Now some 20 tons of chalk were daily pumped into the metropolis at present. A ton of chalk would neutralise 20 tons of soap, which cost 50l. a ton; and it acted most injuriously also on tea, hops, dyes, drugs, &c. The extra cost occasioned to the metropolis by the hardness of the water used, could not, therefore, at the most moderate estimate, be put down at less than 1,000,000l. a year. If no other water could be obtained, it would be necessary patiently to submit to the inconvenience; but it had been ascertained, on the testimony of three independent engineers, two of them largely engaged in important water works for different towns, that there was an ample supply ready to be distributed to the metropolis, of a purity and softness quite unexceptionable. But the water was not only to be bad in quality, its price at the lowest amount suggested as the limit, would be extravagant and oppressive—more than double that which would be paid in the various towns and villages in the country which adopted the Public Health Act; more than double the amount now being paid, as be had already men- tioned, for constant and unlimited supplies at Croydon; and this, though the general rule notoriously was that larger supplies of any article could be provided remuneratively at a lower price than small supplies. The House ought not to mistake an absence of agitation for indifference: the state of feeling which existed on the subject was rather the consequence of misplaced reliance on the public declarations of successive Prime Ministers, and the congratulations conveyed in Speeches from the Throne, of a mistaken impression that the cause of sanitary reform was triumphantly secure, than of any indifference to its success. Did hon. Members suppose that the great interests concerned in the protection of corn and colonial produce could be swept away as they had been, when the people were once fairly roused to a sense of their own interests, and that those local obstructions which might operate in the present ease would not be swept away much more easily? He objected to this Bill, in the first place, because it was a retrograde movement from the consolidation of arrangements which, being sound, right, and economical, they ought to adopt more and more instead of less and less. He objected to the Bill, because it placed in the hands of greedy traders the control over one of the prime necessaries of life, which ought to be supplied to the inhabitants of the metropolis at the cheapest possible rate, as in America, and as in some of the large towns in this country. He objected to the Bill, because in the mode of distribution there was no satisfactory provision for a constant supply, and no efficient control by Government even by the amended clauses of the noble Lord (Lord J. Manners); and he objected, lastly, to the Bill, because of the inferior quality of the water, and its extravagant price. He should, therefore, support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Penryn.


said, the old Companies used to be regarded as the great stumbling-block as far as regarded any improvement in the supply of water to the metropolis; but now there seemed to be a new body called the Sanitary Association, which was a far greater nuisance. Of what it consisted he did not exactly know. One used to hear of the three tailors of Tooley street, who assumed to be the people of England; but now it appeared that this Sanitary Association was assuming to be the health of the people of England. A pamphlet had been put into his hands proceeding from that Association. He had read it attentively, and the greater part of the speech made by the hon. Member for Penryn was that pamphlet. Water from the top of the hills of Surrey was recommended, and water from the bottom of valleys was said to be extremely bad. The noble Lord the Member for Plymouth stated that he had got a friend who found in Thames water something of a feculent odour. [Viscount EBRINGTON: One of the Company's witnesses.] Nobody could be surprised that water should have a feculent odour in the Thames. The noble Lord had acted as a Commissioner of Sewers, and in that capacity he had discharged into the Thames about 10,000,000 cubic feet of feculent matter, which it was calculated would cover thirty-six acres of surface six feet in depth. Yet, seriously, the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Mowatt) were now delaying measures which would correct the great evil that existed. There was an apathy on the part of the public in regard to legislation on this subject; but from what had that arisen? This momentous subject had been trifled with; and how long was it to be so? The question pressed for settlement. Several Private Bills had been passed for the improvement of the supply, of water; and how came the Government Bill to control them? Yet the House was gravely asked to postpone it for another year. He did not say it was perfect, but that was no reason why they should go without it. The Government had pledged themselves to this measure, and one for extramural interments. Those were questions to which the noble Lord at the head of the Government said, on assuming the reins of office, that he would apply his attention as "useful and humble" measures of social reform. The public were looking to Ministers for a completion of those measures. The people would not grudge one, two, or three sittings more if they should result in the passing of good, useful, practical measures. These must not be thrown overboard or passed precipitately. If the House would give its attention, he believed they could pass efficient measures on these two important subjects; ami they ought, at all events, to go into Committee on the Bill.


begged to explain that the witness to whom be had referred was no friend of his, but retained and paid by one of the Companies. He had referred to the evidence of Mr. Rogers, professor of chemistry, and of Mr. Harman Lewis. The water with the feculent odour was taken from Thames Ditton, and not from below the sewage of the metropolis.


thought that nothing would be lost by postponing this question to another Parliament; and, on the part of his constituents, he entreated the Government to take time, so that a well-digested measure might be brought forward. None of the Members of the Committee to which the Bill had been referred were connected with the metropolis.


said, he did not wish to delay the House going into Committee, but he could not remain silent after the speech of the hon. Member for Lambeth. He was much obliged to the Government for having brought forward this measure, and he thought they had exercised a wise discretion in adopting the Bill they found prepared. This was not a new measure, but matured by a Committee of Gentlemen wholly unconnected with the metropolis, with the sole object of doing justice to the metropolis; and after having sat for two Sessions, to complain of that Committee as not wholly unprejudiced was casting a very unfair censure upon them. But of all Gentlemen to complain of their proceedings the very last was the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. When he talked of his regard for the interests of the constitutency of Lambeth, he forgot that the supply of water to Lambeth was described as containing animalculse larger, uglier, and fatter than was contained in water from any other part of the Thames. When this question was discussed last year the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. B. Osborne) produced a drawing of the immense animals found in the Lambeth water; and if Mr. Barry were to say that he had taken them for those very animals which appeared in the windows of that House, he (Sir B. Hall) should say it was very likely, for he never saw such odious, ugly things as his hon. Friend's constitituents wore continually eating and drinking; and yet his hon. Friend objected to the Bill brought in to improve the water supplied to the metropolis. He wished to have nothing to do with the Sanitary Association. Let the inhabitants of the metropolis manage their own concerns. They could not do away with the Companies—that was tried last year: but they could put them under control, and make provisions for lowering the price of water, and obtaining a purer and better supply. That was the object of this Bill; and yet so much objection had been made, that, instead of going into Committee at half-past twelve, they were still discussing whether they should do any business at all at five minutes to three.


said, he had more faith in the Committee than in the Sanitary Association or in the noble Lord the Member for Plymouth (Viscount Ebrington), and should therefore support the Bill.


said, seeing that the opinion of the House was against him, he would not press his Amendment.

House in Committee.

Clause 1 agreed to. House resumed.

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