§ (Sir James Hogg, Sir Andrew Lusk, Mr. Goldney, Mr. John Holms).
§ Order for Second Reading read.
SIR JAMES HOGG
, in moving, that the Bill be now read a second time, said, Sir, the question which I am about to deal with is a very serious one, and if the Bill should be read a second time I shall not object to the proposal to refer it to a Select Committee. The wide spreading feeling in the metropolis with regard to gas has reference mainly to purity, illuminating power, and price, and on these points great dissatisfaction is expressed throughout the metropolis. The Corporation of the City of London and Metropolitan Board appointed committees to consider what was best to be done; and in doing this they naturally had recourse to the Committees of the House of Commons, to see what had been recommended on previous occasions, and they came to the conclusion that it would be best to deal with the question in a wide and comprehensive spirit. They decided to present to Parliament three Bills, one Bill for the independent supply, another for the purchase of the rights of the Companies, and a third, the one which I now ask the House to read for a second time. As to an independent supply, it was stated in the Report of the Committee of 1867 that the absence of such a measure prevented a settlement of the question. I think if I read two or three extracts, I shall show that the Metropolitan Board only acted in a proper manner in bringing forward that Bill. I am now quoting from a Report of Lord Cardwell's Committee, page 15—In conclusion, therefore, your Committee have now to repeat the expression of our decided opinion, that either by the way of regulation or by the way of an independent supply, the consumer is entitled to a far more distinct control than he at present enjoys with respect to the supply of the metropolis, and if the Company decline to submit to arrangements, mea- 612 sures should be taken for a new supply in independent hands.Further on, they say, in the last clause but three—The proper remedy would be for Parliament to concede to the City of London or the Metropolitan Board of Works or other local authority the power of supplying those districts in the manner in which the Corporation of Manchester supplies that city and its surrounding neighbourhood, and your Committee consider that the main cause of the want of legislation has been the absence of any Bill authorizing the establishment of an independent supply of gas in the hands of a local authority.I think that in the face of a Report of such a strong character as that, the Corporation of the City of London and the Metropolitan Board were bound to bring in a Bill such as I have named. With regard to the Purchase Bill, I do not think I need take up the time of the House in discussing the policy of the purchase of Gas Companies when I find that the municipal authorities in Scotland, at Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and those in England, at Manchester, Leeds, Oldham, Nottingham, and Birmingham, have adopted it. I think, therefore, I may say that the principle of municipal authorities having the control of the gas has been entirely conceded by Parliament. Furthermore, the Chartered Gas Company brought in a Bill in the present Session for the express purpose of enabling their undertakings to be purchased by the Metropolitan Board, and therefore I think I may say that they have also conceded that principle; and, furthermore, we have recently had brought before us a proposal from the Imperial Gas Company to ask upon what terms the Metropolitan Board would purchase their undertaking. With regard to the Chartered Gas Company, I am bound to say that the propositions contained in their Bill were such as no municipal authority would have thought of entertaining for one moment, because they were of an extravagant nature; but, still, that was a matter of detail which a Committee would go into. I may be asked, and I have been asked, why I thought it necessary to bring in three Bills, and that these three Bills should all go before a Select Committee of the House of Commons? I may be asked why were two of these Bills withdrawn before they came to the second reading? The answer is clear and simple—because I am not in the habit of keeping up fruit- 613 less discussions; and it having been intimated to me that any discussion would have a fruitless character, and that I would have opposition which would have ensured the success of that opposition, I thought that the proper course would be to rely upon the Metropolis Gas Companies Bill, which is merely a regulation Bill, and which now I ask to read a second time. Before going into the details of the Bill, I may mention that prior to 1868, nine of the large Companies were regulated by the provisions of the Act of 1860; and excepting three of them—the Chartered, the Imperial, and the South Metropolitan, the legislation of 1860 now regulates their management. That Act of 1860 incorporated the Gas Works Act of 1847; and it is necessary for me to refer to that Act, because it distinctly recognized the interest of the consumer, for it expressly states that the surplus profits shall be applied to the reduction in the price of gas. As far back as 1847, the principle was announced that the consumer was interested in the reduction of the price of gas; and it was also recognized that consumers were interested as regards the profits of the undertaking. And this was also carried out by the City of London Gas Act of 1868 and other Acts which, in a distinct manner, show that this principle ought to be insisted upon. A clause in the Act of 1868 states this principle most distinctly—They shall fix such illuminating power and such price as shall be calculated—the Company to use due care in the management of its business to earn the full dividend.[Read on!] Do you wish me to go on? I only wish you to see that I can quote authority for what I say, and I will not take up one moment too much of the time of the House. Well, the Acts of 1847 and 1868 having shown that due care ought to be insisted upon, I do not think that the consumers, through the municipal authorities of the City, the Corporation of the City of London, and the Metropolitan Board of Works, are doing anything at all wrong in asking the House of Commons to reconsider this question. It is no novel principle at all, and all that we want to do is to make effectual enactments, the principles of which have already been recognized. Another point is with regard to the rate of dividend. The maximum is 614 fixed as 10 per cent; and that is in the Act of 1847, Clause 30. The Act of 1868 also recognizes that, and says that it shall be only "after due care and management." Having explained the principles, and what the Metropolitan Board and the City wish, I may mention that both these Bodies were impressed with the earnest belief that Parliament not only desired due care and proper ma nagement on the part of the Companies, but also to secure that object by giving the shareholders an interest in economical management; and looking at the various proceedings lately taken by the Board of Trade, they thought that the Companies had entirely failed, and al though the City had advanced arguments on behalf of the public, it could obtain no redress. In the case of the Imperial Gas Company the Board of Trade Commissioners got the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, which was as follows:—We think under the Imperial Gas Act of 1869 the Commissioners are precluded from inquiring into the question as to the mode in which that Company have raised or expended their capital, and the capital for the purposes of this inquiry must be assumed to be duly raised.
§ "JOHN KARSLAKE,
§ "RICHARD BAGGALLAY,
§ "E. WILLS."
§ In the face of that opinion it was quite impossible for the Board of Works to go further before the Commissioners. Though Parliament has prescribed the amount of dividend, and laid down that due care should be used, we were precluded from going into questions whether due care had been exercised or not, especially with regard to the raising of the capital. There was another point with regard to the powers of the Companies of raising fresh capital and also the price that capital brought. Under existing circumstances, there seems to us—the Metropolitan Board—a very great inducement to raise capital in an undue way. For instance, £100 shares can be sold very shortly after being issued for £160 or £170; and I need not say that this is a great inducement to raise money for the undertaking. Having alluded to this, I will touch upon one or two other points of the Bill. I have been asked several questions as to the repealing of the clauses in the Act of 1860. The reason for the repeal is that it is desired to secure a uniformity 615 of legislation, and to adopt in the present Bill provisions which may not only apply to the Companies under the Act of 1860, but to those which have been dealt with by Parliament since that date. Now, as to Clause 6 of the Bill, which is most objected to by the Gas Companies, I must say that it seems to me as well as to my Colleagues that this clause, in fact, imports a very valuable provision, for it makes the whole of the shareholders, individually and collectively, deeply interested in the way in which the respective concerns are carried on; and it is done in this way. If a higher price should be charged than 3s. 9d. per 1,000 cubic feet within the metropolitan area the dividend is to be decreased. This will give all the shareholders an interest, and make them most anxious that their various directors should carry out this efficient and economical measure. Some say that this is a one-sided arrangement. Possibly it is. But when this goes to a Committee, I am sure that the Metropolitan Board who have charge of this Bill will be most anxious in every way to meet the views of those who thought that the sliding scale ought to go in an opposite direction; and if the Gas Companies, by good regulations and by great economy, find they are able to reduce the price of the gas, then the shareholders will benefit. Another point is the illuminating power. I want to make it clear, with regard to the illuminating power and the price of gas, that throughout the metropolis the consumers of gas have got some slight cause of complaint. I will take 1874. I find that the Gas Light and Coke Company charged 5s. per 1,000 cubic feet, giving 16 candles; the Imperial 4s. 8d., giving 14, while the South Metropolitan only charge 3s. also of 14 candles; the Commercial charge 4s. giving 12 candle gas. So that the price of gas varies from 3s. up 6s., and that was during the time when coal commanded rather an exceptional price. Coming to 1875; I will just give the same Companies. Gas Light and Coke Company 3s. 9d., giving 16 candles; the Imperial 3s. 9d., 14 candles; the South Metropolitan 3s. for 14 candles. I may say that it is the desire of those who promote this Bill—the City and the Metropolitan Board—that throughout the whole of the Metropolis we should get a good and pure gas of 16 candles at the rate of 3s. 9d. per 1,000 cubic feet. 616 That is the principle of the Bill. Another point is the question of referees, who will prescribe and certify the mode to be adopted for testing and recording the illuminating power and pressure of gas, and who will do a variety of other things. The proposition of the Bill is that one should be appointed by the Gas Companies; another should be appointed conjointly by the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board, and the third will be appointed by the Board of Trade. We think that the establishing of these three referees will be the forming of a very excellent and very efficient body. There are other provisions in the Bill of a secondary character, but they are simply for enabling the Act to be worked out and do not touch any vital principle. I only hope that the House will agree that the Corporation of the City of London and the Metropolitan Board have endeavoured to approach this somewhat difficult task in an impartial spirit; and although they may touch somewhat the rights of the Gas Companies, it does seem to us that Parliament who has regulated them on many previous occasions may be very well called upon to regulate them again in an equitable manner. In conclusion, all that I can say is this—that I put it to the House, and ask them whether they consider that unity of management, that unity of price, and the same illuminating power for gas is or is not desirable in this metropolis? If the House thinks it is desirable to have this unity of management, and illuminating power, and also price, they will read this Bill a second time and refer it to a Select Committee, where any details can be gone into and thoroughly thrashed out; and if they should unfortunately reject this Bill then the municipal bodies, whom I am glad to say upon this and other questions have been entirely in accord, will feel that they have done their duty to the consumers of gas in submitting a fair and comprehensive scheme for the judgment of Parliament to Act upon.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir James Hogg.)
§ MR. WHITWELL
regretted that the second reading of this important measure should be taken in the absence of the hon. Member for Helston (Mr. Young), who took a deep interest in the subject, He knew of no instance in 617 which a bolder attempt was made to acquire the entire control of independent companies than was made in that Bill. He did not mean to say that it was not a right thing to do, or that it might not be for the benefit of the public; but he thought the House should be made fully aware that what was proposed was to give up the competitive interests of these companies, and place them under the entire control of three individuals. The Bill would be sure to meet with great opposition from the gas companies. As regarded keeping down the dividends to 10 per cent, it was quite evident that could be done without the public obtaining any advantage from it whatever.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Helston would not be the only one who would feel surprised at finding that measures which they thought would have been postponed were nevertheless proceeded with. Certainly, they had not had adequate time to discuss a measure of this importance; but as the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee, that was an inconvenience which might be there remedied.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
said, he was sorry the hon. Member for Helston was not in his place on that occasion, but it was the hon. Member's own fault. This measure was certainly an important one, affecting as it did the Gas Companies; but it was also important as affecting the interests of the public. He allowed that, as now drawn, it might seriously affect the interests of the Gas Companies; and if the Bill passed in its present shape it might be said that Parliament had not kept faith with them. But he believed it to be possible that the Bill might be so amended in Committee as to keep faith with the companies, and to materially benefit the consumers. This being a matter which might be dealt with in Committee, all he had to do was to see that the Bill was referred to a strong Committee with the other two Gas Bills now before Parliament. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had consented to take charge of the Committee. He hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and then he would move that the three Bills should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON
would impress upon the House that this Bill proposed to deal with property amounting 618 in value to something like £36,000,000. He did not think that the profits of the Gas Companies should be unfairly interfered with, and thought that, so far as the municipal bodies were interested in the matter, they would rather regard the illuminating power than the price.
§ MR. YEAMAN
observed, that the Bill would not only affect the Gas Companies, but the public to a very considerable extent. He thought it would have been much better if the Government themselves had introduced a Bill dealing with the Gas Companies. He could not help thinking the metropolis was far behind the great provincial towns, both in respect to the supply of gas and water. Edinburgh and Glasgow and other large towns had the water and gas supply entirely in their own hands, and the consequence was that those communities were not only well supplied, but supplied at the cost price. He hoped that the Government would support a proposal for transferring the works and business of the Gas Companies to the Metropolitan Board, so that there might be the best gas supplied at the cheapest possible rate. He should certainly support the measure before the House.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he was rather surprised to hear the admission of the President of the Board of Trade, that if this Bill were passed in its present shape it would be a direct breach of faith with the Gas Companies. He did not think it would be his duty, after such a statement, to allow the Bill to be read a second time without a division.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) would not divide the House upon that occasion; but that, if he designed to offer determined opposition to a particular clause, he would postpone it till the stage of Committee. He (Mr. Raikes) fully shared the doubt expressed by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade with regard to some of the provisions of the Bill. Parliament could not be expected to sanction the 6th clause without considerable modification. At the same time, he thought the ground taken by the opponents of the Bill was scarcely tenable. He could not admit that the Gas Companies had a right to come to Parliament and say the Legislature could not interfere with their property so long as they did not pay more 619 than 10 per cent to their shareholders. He thought such a position would be a much more serious contravention of public policy than anything urged by those who were in favour of this Bill. The position of the Gas Companies was two-fold, some being under the Act of 1860 and some under that of 1869. The companies that were under the Act of 1860 had a more elastic range, while as regarded the companies under the Act of 1869 the range was more limited as to the prices to be charged. It was desirable that, as far as possible, all the Gas Companies of the metropolis should be placed on the same footing. The subject would undergo a searching investigation in the Select Committee, and on that ground he hoped his hon. Friend would not divide the House.
said, that this was the third of the measures introduced by the Metropolitan Board of Works during the present Session, and the two former had completely failed—a fact which sufficiently proved the utterly untrustworthy character of that body. In regard to the present Bill—on the 9th of April last all the Gas Companies on the south side of the Thames were before the President of the Board of Trade as a deputation, and assured him that they were quite prepared and quite willing to amalgamate if the President so desired, and with a view to economy, on the terms of his letter of November last, and to insert clauses in the Bill to give the Metropolitan Board of Works powers of purchase at a fair price, to be ascertained by arbitration in the usual way, in the event of any difference. Indeed, the Phoenix Company, by arrangement, brought in a Bill this Session seeking power to amalgamate with all the Companies on the south side of the Thames, and to carry out the views of the President as expressed in his letter to which he had referred. With the leave of the House he would read one passage from the letter of the President of the Board on the 11th of November last; and he must say, in passing, that though he had somewhat against the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion, it was a real pleasure to go to the Board of Trade on any business, for a more courteous and painstaking Minister did not sit on the Treasury Bench. The passage he selected was as follows:—It is said that two Companies, through whose 620 districts the very large main of another Company passes, are about to apply for increased capital to create a new source of supply immediately above this very main. The needless expenditure of material and labour, and, above all, the waste of gas arising from these causes must be very large, and if, by amalgamation and harmonious arrangements this waste could be prevented, there is every reason to believe that the annual expenditure of the Companies might be much less, and their incomes much larger than they now are. Under present circumstances it rests with the Companies them-solves to propose such arrangement, and if they fail to make the attempt, they lay themselves open to the observation that, being secure of their 10 per cent, they have no interest in promoting economy.Now, what happened? Why the Metropolitan Board of Works opposed the Bill, and threw it out on Standing Orders He asked the House to receive that Bill and to let it proceed and go to Committee, for the Phoenix Company were quite ready to carry out the views of the Board of Trade as expressed in the letter from which he had just quoted. The Imperial Company had a Bill for a similar object—namely, to amalgamate with the Companies on the north side of the Thames. The Chartered Company had already amalgamated with five Companies; so that if the House had allowed the Phoenix and the Imperial Bill for amalgamation to proceed, there would have been three Companies in the metropolis instead of 12. The Chartered and Imperial Companies on the north, with their new and gigantic works well away from the habitations of man, down in the marshes of Bow and Woolwich; and one on the south also away from dwellings on the Surrey Canal, where the South Metropolitan Gas Company had 30 acres of ground to cover. This would be fair and reasonable. It would not be abrogating the Parliamentary contract by the Act of 1860, or the subsequent legislation of 1868–9 1869. It would secure the public audit of all the Companies, and it would promote economy, while maintaining the illuminating power and purity of the gas. To show the unfortunate effect of this repeated harassing of the Companies, and of the attempted wild legislation by the Metropolitan Board of Works upon this subject, it was only necessary to mention that the Imperial and Chartered Companies, who, by the legislation of 1868 and 1869, had the price of gas reduced to 3s. 9d., with the illuminating power raised to 16 candles with the revision 621 clause, were in 1874 charging 4s. 8d. and 5s. for their gas, spending £10,000 in the process; whilst the other Companies not interfered with were charging generally 4s. The Bill now before the House laid down a hard-and-fast line as to price, purity, and illuminating power; but it was impossible for Gas Companies supplying a sparse district to furnish gas upon the principles there enunciated. The Complaints, to which reference had been made, as to the price of gas arose entirely out of the circumstance that in 1873 the price of coal advanced from 14s. to 32s.—more than 100 per cent. It was impossible, in that case, for the Companies to pay a 10 per cent dividend, without increasing the price of gas; but the price had since been diminished as the price of coal had been reduced. He trusted the House would reject the Bill now before it, or that, if the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, the President of the Board of Trade would take care that the existing Acts were not overridden, and that the rights of gas shareholders were not injuriously affected, as they would be if the Bill now under consideration was passed in its present form.
§ MR. YOUNG
said, he had given Notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill, which was in violation of a Parliamentary bargain made some years ago. After briefly sketching the history of gas legislation during the last 60 years, and dwelling particularly on what occurred in 1860, the hon. Member proceeded to remark that whereas the Phoenix Gas Company were only bound to supply 12-candle gas at 4s. 6d. per 1,000 feet, they would under this Bill have to supply 16-candle gas at 3s. 9d. per 1,000 feet. Could any one maintain, therefore, that the present Bill did not interfere unfairly with that company? If this principle were sanctioned, good-bye to any reliance on a bargain with Parliament for the future. Let hon. Members ask themselves upon what the title to their own property rested. Was there any that had a better foundation than Parliamentary sanction? Within the last few years we heard of the death of two men who never did a stroke of work for the pensions they received out of the taxes of this country, Lord Ellenborough and a descendant of Lord Thurlow, one of whom had £7,000 and the other £9,000 a-year. But nobody thought 622 of interfering with their rights. And why? Because they were secured by an Act of Parliament. This was not the first Bill brought in this Session on the subject of gas. Three had been brought in by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The first was a Bill to purchase the Gas Companies at a price to be fixed by the Metropolitan Board. The companies would not submit, and the Bill was withdrawn. The second was a Bill to enable the Metropolitan Board to compete with the companies; another £13,000,000 was to be raised to do what was well done by the companies. That Bill was withdrawn for reasons best known to its promoters, and now came a third Bill in which the Metropolitan Board said—"If you won't sell, and if you won't allow us to compete, we will ruin you first and purchase you afterwards." He denied that there was any proof that the Metropolitan Board would supply gas to this great metropolis on better terms or more efficiently than the companies now did. He hoped the House would not admit the principle that where a Parliamentary bargain had been made and millions of money subscribed on the faith of it, it was possible that it could be revoked. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ 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. Young.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. COLLINS
said, that this was a very important question, as nearly 4,000,000 of people, the inhabitants of this metropolis, would be affected by the decision arrived at to-night. The principle of the Bill was sound—namely, that unity of management necessarily carried with it economy and efficiency. There was ample evidence to establish the fact that the local governing bodies of many large cities and towns in this country succeeded in supplying gas on moderate and satisfactory terms. No one could underrate the value to this great metropolitan community of the proper regulation and control of the supply of gas. Gaslight in London was of nearly the same importance to many as the light of day—the avocations of 623 the working classes and of the poor, as well as the comforts of the rich, were affected by it. Anyone who had had so long an experience of London as he had must be aware that much dissatisfaction was constantly expressed by all classes of persons respecting the purity and the price of gas. The whole subject demanded inquiry. As it was proposed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he hoped the House would agree to read it a second time without a division. He would be about the last man in that House to interfere with private enter-prize or vested rights; but he took it that the recommendation of a Select Committee would be that the vested rights of the various companies should be dealt with not only equitably, but liberally.
§ MR. SAMUDA
complained of the short notice hon. Members interested in this question had received that the second reading would be taken that night. With the principle of the Bill generally he was in accord and had no objection to it, as well as the two other Gas Bills, being referred to a Select Committee. It was right that the public should be protected by a Regulation Bill, and the general conditions of the Metropolitan Bill—with some few exceptions—he did not complain of. But he did complain of the interference of the Government with the proposals of the private companies. The Government, in fact, wished to impose terms on the companies as to the mode in which they should raise their new capital, and thus took on themselves to dictate both to the companies and the Committee of this House, to whose judgment the matter ought properly to be referred; and, acting under the influence of the Metropolitan Board, he supposed, thought it justifiable to insist on terms which it would be impossible to obtain. They said—" either you shall raise all your new capital on loan at 5 per cent, or you shall have an opposition to your project being passed." The Commercial Gas Company felt bound to reject these terms. He also thought the Government were acting on a mistaken notion in supposing that the interests of the public demanded that they should interfere in this way with private enterprize. If they thought that through the Metropolitan Board of Works or by any process of their own, they were in a position to purchase the 624 Gas Companies, he could not conceive that the companies would have any objection to sell their undertakings, and in such case it could make no difference in the amount to be paid for each undertaking how the capital had been raised, for the amount of purchase would be arrived at by fixing the number of years' purchase that should be given on the annual earnings of the company—as in the case of the Telegraphs—and the annuity of the company would form the only basis of purchase.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the remarks of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) had reference not so much to the Bill before the House as to two private Bills enabling Gas Companies to raise additional capital. No doubt they might be coupled together. The question, however, was whether the present Bill should be read a second time with a view of referring it to a Select Committtee in company with the two Bills of the private companies. The remarks which had been made seemed to imply that the present system was by no means entirely satisfactory. There were irregularities which it was desirable, in the opinion of the Government, to get rid of, and it would be necessary to establish a uniform system which might be applied to the whole of the Gas Companies of the metropolis. That necessity was so obvious that it was unnecessary for him to dilate upon it. The Metropolitan Board of Works had originally proposed to take power to purchase all the Gas Companies of the metropolis. He confessed that his feelings was against such a proposal, and the influence of the Government was employed to induce them to withdraw the Bills brought in with that object. Those two Bills being dropped the question with the Metropolitan Board of Works was, whether, if they were shut out from a measure for supplying gas to the metropolis, they should introduce a Bill by which they might satisfactorily regulate the action of the private gas companies. With this view a Bill had been drawn up, the great body of the provisions of which were either satisfactory, or might be made so. The House would do well, therefore, to give a second reading to the present measure, so that it might be considered by a Select Committee, which he hoped might be a 625 strong one, and put into a proper shape. Special reference had been made to the 6th clause, limiting the price to be charged for gas to a certain standard. This clause stipulated that gas of 10-candle power should be charged 3s. 9d. per 1,000 cubic feet; and it was provided that if the price were increased, the dividend was to be reduced. That clause would, in his opinion, amount to a breach of faith, and was an unfair clause to be adopted. If that clause were to be considered an essential principle of the Bill, the House would, he thought, pause before it gave its assent. It would be, however, a pity to lose a Bill that seemed to be a good one in many respects, if the House saw its way to some omissions in, or modifications of, that Bill. If the Bill were now read a second time, and went to a Committee, it would be the duty of the Government to watch it carefully when it came back; and if that clause came back in its present shape, it would be impossible to allow the Bill to proceed any further. He believed, however, it would be possible for the Committee to consider and amend the clause, and to send down the Bill in such a shape that it might pass during the present Session.
§ MR. DODDS
said, he thought they were discussing the Bill under very exceptional circumstances. A great many hon. Members took a lively interest in this question, and some of them had gone away under the impression that the Bill could not be reached that night; and as any discussion which the House might arrive at in their absence would not be satisfactory, he would move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out to the hon. Member that, having seconded the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, it was not competent for him to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Richard Smyth.)
§ MR. RITCHIE
, in opposing the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, said, it was of the utmost importance that the Bill should be read a second time that night. If the debate were adjourned it was impossible to say when it would be resumed. With respect to the 626 Gentlemen who had left the House, that was a matter which concerned them only. He hoped the House would not give its consent to the Motion to adjourn the debate.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he could not make out why an inquiry was resisted. It was admitted that the gas supplied by the companies was infamous, and, further, that something must be done to remedy the existing state of things. The Gas Companies received more than they were entitled to, and they had evaded every provision in every Act of Parliament which was intended to limit their charges. Under these circumstances, he should support the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.
SIR JAMES HOGG
, in reply, said: I do not think it is usual to move the adjournment of a debate when the matter has been so fully discussed as on the present occasion. This Bill came on for discussion soon after 9 o'clock, and it has now been on for more than two hours, and if it goes on for two hours longer I shall be happy to listen to all that may be said. As regards the hon. Member for Helston (Mr. Young), and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) I regret extremely that they did not hear me introduce the Bill, because, if they had heard my remarks, they would not have spoken in the manner they did. Whenever I have been asked as to the time when I should bring in this Bill I have always said that I should do so even if it were 15 or 20 minutes past 12 o'clock. As regards the remarks on the postponement, I never gave, directly or indirectly, any intimation to any human being that I would not bring it on to-night. On the contrary, the only thing that was said was, that if certain provisions were not accepted by certain Companies Her Majesty's Government would try to afford me a day if I could not get on tonight. I must say that I did not expect it to come on so early, and to me it was a matter of extreme inconvenience. But I need not dilate upon this subject. I need not trouble you with any further observations; but I say that the state of 627 affairs in regard to gas is not satisfactory. This Bill is trying to put them in a more satisfactory position than they occupy at present. During the whole of the discussion the only serious objection taken is with regard to that 6th clause. All that I can say is, that the promoters will, if the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Motion and let the Bill go to a second reading, let that clause go to the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and will let the Committee say whether it is suitable or not. I am quite prepared to say let that be done; and if the Committee of the House of Commons consider that we place too low a price, we are prepared to give the greatest consideration to the Committee selected by the House of Commons. I do not think I could say more; and I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Motion.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, the principle of the Bill was contained in the 6th clause, and he must vote against the Bill, so long as that clause remained in it. If it were omitted, then the Bill could be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 37; Noes 147: Majority 110.
§ Original Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 132; Noes 67: Majority 75.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.