HC Deb 25 May 1871 vol 206 cc1314-23

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it was unnecessary that he should enter into any lengthened explanation of its provisions, inasmuch as it was his intention to propose that the measure should be referred to a Select Committee. Its principal object was to provide a constant, instead of an intermittent, supply of water to the Metropolis. So long ago as 1846, the Board of Health pointed out in the strongest language that not only was the water supplied to the Metropolis deficient in quantity, but that it was bad in quality. In 1850 the Board of Health drew attention to the very great evils attending the intermittent system of supply; and in 1852 an Act was passed, making many improvements in respect to the water supply for the Metropolis, and enacting that the constant system should be introduced into particular districts on the application of four-fifths of the inhabitants of the district to be supplied; but he need not say how impossible it was to obtain the concurrence of so large a proportion to any subject. In 1867 a Select Committee of that House, and in 1869 a Royal Commission, reported that a constant supply of water was necessary for the health and well-being of the inhabitants of the Metropolis. The Government, however, did not immediately act on that recommendation, because they were in hopes of being able to introduce a measure for the local government of the Metropolis under which the local Governing Body would have been enabled to deal with that question. That measure, however, was necessarily postponed; and he thought the great boon of an improved water supply for London ought not to be deferred until a measure of such difficulty could be previously carried, and the Government had, therefore, introduced this Bill, proposing to deal with the subject at once. What the Bill proposed was that, on certain specified applications being made, the Secretary of State, if satisfied that the need exists, may call upon the company to supply the specified district with a constant supply of pure and wholesome water. One of the most difficult questions connected with the constant supply was the enforcement of the requisite regulations to prevent the waste of water. The experience of several towns, especially of Norwich and Manchester, had shown that, under proper regulations, constant supply led not only not to waste but to an actual economy of water. The Bill, as it stood, provided that those regulations should be made by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and approved ultimately by the Secretary of State. But great objections had been raised and strong arguments urged by the water companies against that arrangement. The Government had yielded to those objections which they considered to be reasonable, and therefore they intend to propose before the Select Committee that the companies shall, in the first instance, frame the regulations they conceive necessary, and that those regulations shall be examined by the Metropolitan Board of Works on behalf of the public, and that they shall be finally determined in case of objection by the Secretary of State. The Bill took security for improved filtering of the water, if necessary, and to that end provided that constant analysis of the water should be made, and that an analyzer should be appointed by the Secretary of State; it provided for the audit of the accounts, and for the compulsory purchase by the Metropolitan Board of Works of the companies. The companies had objected to that system of compulsory purchase, and the Government had considered that the Metropolitan Board of Works, though a very useful body, was, doubtless, not the central authority to whom they should wish to intrust the possession of those great powers, and were therefore willing to accede to the terms which, on the part of the companies, had been offered, and that was, that the question of purchase should be considered by the Select Committee, and that if the terms could be agreed upon as between the companies on the one side and the Metropolitan Board of Works, as representing the general interest of the inhabitants, on the other, that those terms should be fixed in the Bill; but that if they could not agree, the question of purchase should be postponed until a system of local government should be provided for the Metropolis. Those were the chief provisions of the Bill. The Government, in endeavouring to get so great a boon for the Metropolis, had not been unmindful of the interests of those great companies which had hitherto undertaken the task of supplying it with water. The companies, he was bound to say, had exerted themselves, especially of late years, to increase the quantity and improve the quality of their water. They had experienced great difficulties in drawing their supply from the most desirable sources. To remedy that defect Acts of Parliament had been passed, and the discussion of Tuesday night showed that great steps had been taken to remedy the evil. He hoped that the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, thus obviating the necessity of a long discussion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Bruce.)


said, he believed that if the measure had been left to the Board of Trade, whose proper department it was, to introduce such a Bill, a much more conciliatory course would have been adopted than had been pursued in the present instance. Since the Bill had been introduced the Government had introduced another for the regulation of Gas Works Companies, which contained clauses as objectionable to those companies as this Bill to the water companies. But what was the course pursued by the Board of Trade? They withdrew the Bill, and introduced another—and not only that, but as the new Bill still contained some objectionable provisions, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade invited the parties interested to a free discussion, heard courteously what they had to say, and, in consequence, made such alterations in the measure that the objections were removed, and the very parties who most strongly opposed the Bill were now ready to pass it with alacrity. It had been stated that from the position he occupied with regard to the Kent Waterworks Company, he was bound by the agreement between the water companies and the Government that the former should not oppose the second reading of this Bill, and that he had no right to stand up in defence of the interests of the ratepayers; but he must explain that although he had since been elected a director of that company, when he had originally given notice of his intention to oppose the measure he had no connection whatever with any water company. He opposed the Bill then, as he did now, as a ratepayer and householder in the Metropolis, and not in the interest of the water companies. His grievance against the Government was that they had gone behind the public, and settled with the most formidable of the opponents of the Bill, and then declined to inform the public of the terms of that arrangement. They had dealt with the companies only, and had left the consumers and ratepayers out in the cold. Who was to represent the consumers before the Select Committee? The Government had thrown a sop to the companies. The compulsory purchase clauses had been abandoned—that was to say, in order to conciliate the opposition of the companies, the whole principle of the Duke of Richmond's Commission—that in any legislation on the subject Parliament should consolidate the whole water supply of the Metropolis, and vest the management in the hands of the proper local authorities—had been abandoned. That was not the way in which a great and important question such as this should be dealt with. Where was the necessity for referring the question to a Select Committee? They had had a Committee in 1867, and a Commission since then—the question was quite ripe for legislation. The way to deal with this question was to make good police regulations, and to give to the local authorities the right of enforcing on owners of houses the duty of building them properly, instead of dealing with it in the confused and hesitating way in which it was treated by the framers of this measure. He had been told that he was interested in stopping the Bill, and that he had endeavoured to stifle discussion by moving the "count out" on Tuesday. He indignantly denied the accusation. He thought they were wasting the night—and they did waste the night, for they discussed a Resolution on which the Mover did not dare to divide the House. ["Divide!"] The Government must not think they could suppress free discussion solely by the aid of the majority which they had at their backs, for he, for one, would not submit to it, though as to that majority it was fast diminishing, and, unless they conducted matters very differently, might, in the course of a short time, disappear altogether.


seconded the Amendment.

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

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

SIR HENRY HOARE moved the adjournment of the debate. He thought that a question of this importance should be brought on at an hour when it could be properly discussed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Henry Hoare.)


said, he thought that in a few sentences he should put before the House the state of this question, and then he trusted the House would not consider it necessary to adjourn the debate. So long ago as 1852 the water companies were asked to give a constant supply to the Metropolis. To that request they answered that it was impossible to do so then; but that, if they were allowed five years, they would then be able to comply with the request. Accordingly, a regulating Act was passed, which adjourned the constant supply for five years. Three or four years ago, the state of the supply in London having been called in question by this House, a Committee was appointed to inquire why the Act of 1852 had not been put in operation. Before that Committee the waterworks companies appeared, and the inhabitants of London appeared through the Metropolitan Board of Works, and both parties were heard by counsel. After a prolonged inquiry the Committee affirmed the principle of the Act of 1852, and pointed out that this constant supply had not been given, not on account of any defect in its principle, but on account of the defective details of the Bill; and they recommended that the Government—standing between the water companies on the one hand, and the Metropolis on the other—should be charged with the duty of introducing a Bill to carry out the pledge given by the water companies in 1852, and for which the inhabitants of the Metropolis had so long waited. In consequence of that Report, his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) brought in a Bill to give a constant supply. They need not go into the question of purchase, because that was a matter which would have to be gone into before the Committee. The House was asked to read the Bill a second time, in order that it might go before a Committee upstairs. In this state of things, was it possible for the House to anticipate the investigations of the Committee or, to come to any conclusion as to the mode in which the constant supply was to be carried out? If the water companies satisfied the Committee that there were practical difficulties in carrying out the Bill, of course the Committee would throw it out. Unless the Committee were quite satisfied that the Act of 1852 could be carried into effect, of course no further action would be taken; but, if they were satisfied that it could be carried into effect, they would pass the Bill, and then they would have to go into Committee on the Bill in the House, and on the Motion for going into Committee they would have all the materials for discussion. This was really a preliminary step, if the Government acted fairly towards the water companies. It left it as an open question, to be examined and decided by the Committee upstairs in the first instance. Was it not better to adopt what had been the uniform practice of the House, and that was, that when a Bill called a hybrid Bill was brought forward, they should read it a second time, and send it to a Committee upstairs, in order that its merits might be investigated?


appealed to the House to proceed with the discussion. If the Bill were to go into Committee at all this year it ought to go at such a time that it could be discussed. The hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) had talked of the consumers; and had complained that he had been told that being a Director of the Kent Waterworks he had no right to speak on the question. But what he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) said was that if the hon. and learned Gentleman did speak he should have called attention to the fact that he was a Director of a water company—because he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) thought it a strange thing that an hon. Member who represented the water companies should rise up in the House and pretend that his care was all for the interest of the consumers.


hoped the House would not, by reading the Bill a second time, affirm the vicious principle it contained. He censured the Government for bringing in Bill after Bill like the Licensing Bill and that now under discussion, which were based on the principle of confiscation.


contended that the clauses relating to the purchase of the companies ought not to be withdrawn by arrangement, but ought to be fairly debated.


defended the course proposed by the Government, whose justification was to be found in the fact that the Bill had been too long before the House.


said, during the many years he had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had never addressed it on this subject; but having for two-thirds of his life been in connection with water companies, and being chairman of two of them, he ventured to make a protest against the present spirit of legislation. The First Commissioner of Works was inaccurate in saying that the companies were under obligation to give constant supply in five years. They were under obligation to give it under conditions which had never been fulfilled; and although it might be a very difficult thing to get four-fifths of any body to agree on any given point, still he thought the circumstance that there had never been any attempt to procure a constant supply was a sufficient reason for supposing that there was no great wish for it. With regard to the quality of the water, it was sufficient to say that the water supply of the Metropolis would compare well with that of any other town; and when they remembered that the rate of mortality was lower in London than it was in any other large town, it was fair to suppose that the supply of water from the Thames was not unwholesome. As to constant supply, he doubted whether, by any possible regulation, they could force the owners of houses to make a sufficient provision for the reception of the water. Under these circumstances, although he thought it ought not to be necessary, he was quite willing that the law should require that there should be a constant supply to small houses—that was, that the water should be given only in one way—namely, by stand-posts, like lamp-posts. That was necessary, because experience showed that if they had the fittings in poor houses, they were immediately stolen. But although he thought it not absolutely necessary, but the best course, to give a constant supply to poor houses, he did not think that a constant supply should be given to the large houses. It would be a great expense and inconvenience, and the supply would not be better for them than the present supply was. With regard to this Bill itself, a great part of the objections made by the water companies—by no means all, but a great part—had been removed, and the water companies had undertaken not to oppose the second reading of the Bill.


objected to sending to a Select Committee a Bill on which the metropolitan Members had had no opportunity of expressing their opinions, under the pretence that it was a hybrid Bill, for to all intents this was a Government measure.


also protested against the House being called upon to give a decision without discussion. It had been treated by the Government as if it were a mere question between them and the companies. It appeared that the companies had had an astute gentleman, known to many Members of the House, acting for them, and the Metropolitan Board of Works had had another gentleman acting for them, and those two gentlemen had come to terms—the companies were not to oppose the Bill, and the Bill was to be sent to a Committee upstairs. The public were nowhere; they were supposed to be represented by the Government. But was there a single metropolitan Member who would get up and ask the Government to go on with this Bill? Certainly, this Bill ought never to have been introduced in its present form without the representatives of the Metropolis being consulted. The fact was that the Metropolitan Board of Works had finished the Embankment and other public works; they had a very large staff and required more work for it to do, and so they took up the question of water supply.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 87: Majority 30.

Original Question again proposed.


then moved the adjournment of the House. Every metropolitan Member had voted for the adjournment of the debate, and he thought it right that their wishes should be attended to.


wished to say that he and his colleague represented one-seventh of the whole population of the Metropolis, and he thought it hard that they should be overruled by Members from the rural districts. The metropolitan public, so far as they were represented in that House, were unanimously against this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn,"—(Mr. Collins.)


said, it was with a great repugnance that he pressed the Bill at that time of night. It was only because he thought the fate of the Bill depended on it. He admitted that the metropolitan Members represented the public of the Metropolis; but in this matter there were other representatives of the Metropolis, and although he admitted that the Metropolitan Board of Works did not constitute such a representation of the Metropolis as he desired, yet they represented a great portion of the Metropolis, and they supported this Bill in its main principle. Under these circumstances he must press the Bill.


remarked that this Bill involved the taxation of the Metropolis to the extent of from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000, and protested against such a measure being brought forward without the ratepayers having a voice in the matter. He begged to remind the Home Secretary that not a single petition had been presented in favour of the Bill, which was opposed by every portion of the Metropolis. He could not understand why there should be this indecent haste. Surely the health of the inhabitants of the Metropolis was not suffering so materially that they must discuss this Bill between 1 and 2 o'clock.


said, he had presented numerous Petitions against the first Bill; and after he had done so he was told that the Bill was not that which the Government supported. The House, then, ought to know what the measure was that the Government were now pressing to a second reading. He supported the adjournment.


thought it a reasonable request on the part of the metropolitan Members that the debate should be adjourned.


asked what the metropolitan Members were there for but to discuss any measure brought before the House, and especially what related to the Metropolis?


said, reluctant as he was to delay the progress of the Bill, he would consent to the adjournment of the debate.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow, at Two of the Clock.