HC Deb 25 March 1852 vol 120 cc79-85

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, the promoters proposed to draw a very large supply from the neighbourhood of Watford from an extensive range of chalk hills surrounding that place. Besides the districts of London which it was intended to supply, the plan embraced no less than ten or twelve places, containing upwards of 50,000 persons, either ill supplied with water, or not supplied at all. They had the best authority to prove that the water could he obtained from the district and in the manner proposed. Mr. R. Stephenson, in his report on the subject, said— 1. That the chalk is the 'great water-bearing stratum' underlying the London clay, and from which all the Artesian Wells, directly or indirectly, draw their supplies. 2. That below the level of its natural drainage of the country, it is charged with an enormous quantity of water, which may be obtained with extraordinary facility by pumping. 3. That the quantity obtainable from shafts is amply sufficient to meet the object contemplated by the company. As to the quality of the water, he believed the promoters would be able to satisfy a Committee upon that point, for it was such as he believed no other source in the country could produce. The right hon. Baronet the late Home Secretary (Sir G. Grey), on the 23rd of January, 1851, appointed a Commission of three of the most eminent chemists to examine into the quality of the water which it was proposed to supply to the Metropolis; and these three gentlemen reported that the inhabitants of London had within their reach, "in these chalk strata, a supply of water which is asserted, on good authority, to be inexhaustible, and which may be considered as everywhere of an uniform composition and quality." An important question here arose: the Metropolis complained of the quality and price of the water supplied; the inhabitants at present were charged one shilling and three-fourths of a penny for every 1,000 gallons; while this new company undertook to supply a better quality at fivepence per 1,000 gallons. Was not this worth the attention of the Legislature? He had been given to understand there was to be an opposition to the Bill. Now the promoters were private individuals, who had no very great means of incurring expense before a Committee, and did so entirely at their own, risk; while the opponents of the scheme were companies of great wealth, power, and influence. He asked the House, however, not to throw out on the second reading this, which was the only Bill relating to the Water Supply of the Metropolis which had not passed through this stage, and which it was believed by the promoters would contribute so considerably towards the sanitary improvement of the metropolis.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he must oppose the Bill, and should move that it be read a second time that day six months. The measure was opposed by every single landowner and millowner residing on the banks of the rivers and streams touched by the works of this company; but it was not merely upon the details, but upon the principle of the Bill that he objected to it. He admitted a great part of what his hon. Friend (Mr. H. T. Hope) had stated. He admitted that the water supply of the Metropolis was defective; but although this might be the case, it was of even more paramount importance that in accomplishing their object the promoters of this Bill should not infringe on the rights of others. The works proposed would, by withdrawing the water from the district round Watford, do a great and irreparable injury over a large extent of country. The promoters proposed that if the level of the water in the wells from which the inhabitants drew their supplies should be reduced, they would either sink the wells deeper, or give them a supply of water. This was an acknowledgment that injury would be effected; but there were other places than Watford affected by the plan, and no compensation was offered to any but the inhabitants of Watford. The effect of this Bill would be, if passed, that the company would be placed beyond the reach of the Common Law. If an individual were to form a well of the sort contemplated by this company, and were to drain off the supplies of others, as he believed would be done in this instance, he would be liable to be called on in a Court of Law to give compensation to those whom he had injured; but this company desired now to be protected against the consequences of their own acts. The House had been told of the cheap rate at which this company would be enabled to supply their water, and no wonder, when they got it from other people without paying for it. He hoped the House would not, for such a scheme as this, put the opponents of the measure to the expense of going before a Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


thought that if the House threw out this Bill they would refuse a possible remedy for one of those crying evils which the populous districts of the metropolis had suffered from so long.


said, he had devoted a great deal of time to the examination of this project, and had given it his most serious consideration. He would not pledge himself to the allegations of the promoters of the Bill; he merely rose to assure the House that it possessed merits which ought to be discussed before a Committee. The result of his late investigation was to lead him to the conclusion that the proposal was well worthy consideration. No one was prepared to deny that the supplying of the metropolis with good water was most desirable; and on that ground the proposal ought to be examined by a Committee.


wished to ask three questions of the hon. Member who had moved the second reading: first, whether the supply of water was to be procured by digging a well 600 feet deep; secondly, whether an experiment lately made by the company did not result in drying up some wells in the neighbourhood; and, thirdly, whether a similar Bill had not been rejected by this House on a former occasion? Unless these three questions could be answered in a satisfactory manner, he could not support the Bill.


said, he understood that it was proposed to sink a well, but the depth he was not prepared to state, though he believed it was not so deep as had been suggested by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford. As to the second question, he could only speak to that which he had been advised, and he was told that the experiment had been attended with perfect success. The third question was, whether a similar Bill to the present had not been thrown out on a former occasion by the House; but it was so thrown out in consequence of the Government having a Bill of their own for the supply of the metropolis, not upon its own merits. Having answered the questions of the hon. Member, he hoped he Sad established a claim to his vote.


thought the House could have no better proof than this discussion afforded of the unsatisfactory state of the whole question. The House had adopted no intelligible line in dealing with this question. It was said by some hon. Gentleman, in proof of the necessity for this Bill, that the water supplied to the metropolis was not only deficient in quantity but bad in quality. But it was proved that an enormous proportion, say two-fifths, of all the water supplied to the metropolis, was not consumed for manufacturing or domestic purposes, but either ran into the sewers, or saturated all the land. This process was going on upon the south side of the Thames, so that you had in the districts most densely inhabited a super- abundance of water in the soil, which the landlords in other parts of England were receiving advances from the State for getting rid of. The district south of the Thames might indeed be said to be waterlogged, by the millions of gallons pumped into the district, which there were no available means of getting rid of. So far as quantity was concerned, an additional supply, therefore, was not necessary for London. As to the badness of quality, he would only observe, that although the noble Lord lately at the head of the Board of Works (Lord Seymour) had thought fit to set aside the elaborate researches of his colleagues, collected by scientific men, and affirmed by his predecessor (the Earl of Carlisle), with regard to the immense expense and extravagance of hard as distinguished from soft water, the inconvenience found in washing with it, its costliness in the wear and tear of linen, and in the increased consumption of soap and tea which it required—although the noble Lord had set aside so summarily the facts collected by his predecessor, and to the truth of which he gave his high authority, yet he (Viscount Ebrington) was not prepared to deal so lightly with the concurrent authority of so many eminent men. He therefore objected to supply the metropolis with so bad a quality of water as a hard chalk water, when there were easily accessible supplies of a better character. He objected to referring these separate Bills to a Committee, instead of referring the whole subject to a. Committee. If hon. Members disregarded the evidence of eminent scientific men, let them have the Report of a Committee of their own body, which would enable them to come to some conclusion with regard to these multifarious Bills. In the year 1823 a Committee appointed to consider the supply of water to the metropolis, reported that the usual laws of supply and demand, and the ordinary checks of competition, did not apply in this case. All the evidence of scientific and thoughtful men who had since devoted so much attention to the subject, confirmed that view, so taken thirty years ago by a Committee of that House. He was not unfavourable to local self-government. The supply of water and the drainage were essentially municipal functions. He desired to see no monopoly, but he wished to see competition for the field, and not in the field. He wanted to know who would do the work in the best manner and in the cheapest way. He only wished to put an end to the sys- tem of companies starting with competing powers, and then coalescing and taxing the ratepayers of the metropolis for the supply of water, the only result being to multiply the capitals employed, and to make the public pay the interest and profit upon each.


said, the question was, whether a company in this metropolis had the right to sink a well where they pleased, and to rob all the surrounding country of its water, against the wishes of the inhabitants. The House had already decided, on a former occasion, not to entertain this Bill, and to that decision he trusted they would now adhere.


thought it impossible to get a better supply of water than would be given under this Bill. He should support the second reading.


said, the people in the Kensington district were not half supplied with water. If this project was carried out, as he trusted it would be, the Bayswater and Kensington districts would be amply supplied with water, as would a great number of people who were not sufficiently provided with that necessary element at present. He trusted the House would, in common justice, allow the Bill to go to a Committee.


would support the Bill. It was a strong argument in its favour, that it was strenuously opposed by the old companies, who had been at all times the fosterers of monopoly and the champions of peculation, and who deluged the Members of that House with a flood of documents hostile to the Bill. He was credibly informed that no fewer than eighty-six Members of that House had a direct pecuniary interest in the old companies; and if the fact were so, the hon. Gentlemen in question would best consult their own dignity and the character of the House, by abstaining altogether from voting.


thought that the matter to which the hon. Member for Finsbury had alluded, was one which was of the greatest possible importance to the dignity and honour of the House. If it were true that there were in the House eighty-six Members who had a pecuniary interest in the old companies, it was equally certain that those Members were bound in honour and common decency to abstain from voting; It was a constitutional doctrine of that House that no Member should vote on a question in which he was personally interested; and he (Mr. Hume) would chal- lenge the votes of all who might violate so salutary a maxim. For himself, he would not hesitate to vote in favour of the second reading, for he thought it was only right that a Bill so plausible in principle should at least obtain a fair trial.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 196; Noes 65: Majority 131.

Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill read 2°.