§ MR. THOMAS CHAMBERS moved, "That the Imperial Gas Bill and the Bills of all other Companies supplying the Metropolis with Gas be referred to the same Committee." The hon. Member said, the object was to secure con- 301 sistency of legislation and the protection of the consumer.
§ MR. LOCKE
, in supporting the Motion, called the attention of the House to the Notice issued by the- Board of Trade under the late Administration, from which it appeared that that Department contemplated bringing in a Bill similar to that passed last year for the Corporation of the City of London, and which would extend to the other parts of the metropolis those advantages which the City now enjoyed. The Act of the City Corporation had been of great benefit; it had lowered the price and improved the quality of the gas. At the same time it required alterations and additions, and therefore the Board of Trade issued a Notice on the 14th November last indicating their intention of bringing in a Bill to extend provisions similar to those of the City Corporation Act hi the whole of the metropolis, and to enlarge and improve those provisions. He presumed that Bill when brought in would be referred to a Select Committee, and therefore it would be most prudent to prevent this Imperial Gas Bill from being taken into a Committee by itself, and to send it to the same Committee which would have to consider the Bill of the Board of Trade. A Committee on this subject, as far back as 1867, had concluded their Report with these words—Unless the Companies are prepared during the Recess to consent to such an arrangement (the one suggested by the Committee), your Committee think that every facility should be afforded to the local authorities of the metropolis in the Session of 1868 for the introduction of an independent supply.Advantage was taken of that recommendation by the Corporation of the City of London, but not by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who had no funds at their disposal to carry out such a project.
said, the Notice given by the Board of Trade, some time before he joined the Government, was not given with any positive determination to introduce a Bill, but rather with the view of leaving the Department at liberty to determine what should be done when the House assembled. The matter had been discussed most fully since he became connected with the Board, and the conclusion arrived at was not to bring in any Bill on their part as a consequence 302 of the Notice. The Bill now under consideration was the only one of great importance that was likely to come before the House this Session on behalf of the Gas Companies. It was a Bill by which it was proposed to raise a large amount of capital, and it was one, no doubt, that would require very careful consideration by the Committee to which it would be referred. In this case, as in most others, the Committee would be called upon to ascertain that not more than a necessary amount of capital was to be raised, and that security was taken that the capital should be duly and properly expended. It was true that in 1867 a Committee recommended that every facility should be afforded to the local authorities of the metropolis in the Session of 1868 for the introduction of an independent supply, but, unfortunately, in the metropolis, with the exception of the City of London, there did not appear to be any authority to whom the supply of gas could be wisely confided. The Metropolitan Board was really the only body, and they at present, for a variety of reasons, did not consider it desirable that the supply of gas should be undertaken by them. He took it for granted that, if the Metropolitan Board had the power to supply the metropolis with gas, they would not establish new works at any one place, but would arrange for the transfer to them of the pipes already laid, and the works already established. The Board, however, was not at present in a condition to undertake the duty, and in all probability its constitution would have to be reviewed by Parliament before so great a change was made. Under these circumstances he was unwilling to, as he thought, harass the Gas Companies by constant opposition in Parliament, when the Department was not prepared with any distinct policy which it could recommend to the House. There could be no objection to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) that the Gas Bills be referred to the same Committee.
§ MR. BREWER
said, one of the great difficulties under which the metropolis outside the City of London laboured was, that by the Local Management Act there was no power given to any local body to come to Parliament for those advantages which the Select Committee of 1867 thought ought to be conceded to the 303 ratepayers, who were compelled, therefore, to rely upon the Government.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, gas was now supplied to the metropolis by companies which had been in the habit of dividing 10 per cent profits. The object of this Bill was to reduce those dividends, and this might be quite right; but they had been made the subject of family settlements, and if they were altered without due and careful provision, families might, in consequence, be reduced to ruin.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished to correct an erroneous impression that the local authorities had no right to interfere in these questions. Some time ago the Standing Orders of the House were altered so as to allow the local authorities of the metropolis to appear against any Bill affecting the interests of which they had charge, and by their Act of Parliament they had power to take any proceedings they thought necessary for the interests of the inhabitants of the metropolis. They had power, therefore, for the protection of the inhabitants, if they chose to exercise it; but he was sorry to say that the local authorities of the metropolis rather avoided duties which they might very well perform, and endeavoured to throw them as much as possible upon the Government of the day.
§ Motion agreed, to.