Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th August],
That, in view of the fact that the Metropolitan Board of Works has been unable to pass any measure dealing with the water supply of London, this House is of opinion that it is a subject which ought, without further delay, to be dealt with by the Governmentt."—(Mr. Fawcett.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR. FAWCETT
, in resuming the discussion, said, it appeared to be scarcely necessary to impress upon the House the importance of the question. He must, however, take that opportunity of expressing his sincere obligations to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for favouring him with an opportunity of bringing it forward. The question which they had to consider divided itself into two parts—what was the nature of the water supply, and what was its cost to the people of London? The subject obviously presented itself in four aspects. First of all, pure water affected the 918 health of the community; secondly, pure water affected the moral condition of the people, because, without pure water, it was hopeless to expect temperance; thirdly, the security of the life and property of a great city depended: upon a pure and adequate supply of water; and, fourthly, it was a condition naturally important that the millions who dwelt in London should obtain their water at the lowest cost possible. The practical questions they had to determine were—whether the quality of the water was sufficiently good; whether the mode of supply was what it ought to be; and whether the price charged was excessive. With regard to the last, he thought if there was a right which the people of a great community could claim more indisputably than another, it was that they should have a supply of water given to them at the lowest possible price. He wished particularly to impress upon the House that they had to consider not only the quality of the water, but what was, perhaps, of more importance, the mode of supply; for he believed he should be able to show conclusively that London at the present moment was suffering far more from defects in the mode of supply than from defects in quality, because it was obvious that the very best water that could be obtained from the purest spring might be polluted and hopelessly spoilt if that water was so stored as to be subject to the contamination of noxious gases and vapours. Keeping as distinct as possible the quality of the water in London and the mode of supply, he would, in the first place, direct the attention of the House to the quality of the water supplied to London. It was, perhaps, well known to hon. Members that they obtained their water from eight Companies. Five of those Companies—namely, the Southwark and Vauxhall, Chelsea, Lambeth, Grand Junction, and West Middlesex—drew their supply from the Thames; the East London from the River Lea; the New River Company from the springs at Amwell, Hertfordshire; and the Kent Water Company from some deep wells in the chalk. Therefore, six out of the eight Companies supplying water to the Metropolis derived their supply from a river source entirely, and that river source, the Thames, supplied about 51 per cent, or rather more than half of the 919 entire water which was used in London. In speaking of the quality of the water supply, he would be most anxious to avoid all exaggeration. Now, with regard to the quality of the water which was drawn from the Thames, there wore two opposite opinions. There were those who said that river water passed through so many towns—the Thames in its course flowed through many large towns—and it drained so many acres of cultivated land, that no amount of filtration could make its water fit for human use. That was the opinion arrived at by the Rivers Pollution Commissioners which sat in 1868. But he was bound in candour to state that an entirely opposite opinion was arrived at by the Water Supply Commission of 1866, over which the Duke of Richmond presided, and also by a Select Committee of that House which sat in 1871, and to which the Metropolis Water Bill of 1870 was referred. They stated that if the Thames water were properly filtered, that water might be made suitable for all dietetic purposes. He did not wish to decide between those rival opinions; but he was bound in fairness to say that he thought the opinion he had last referred to was confirmed by a Report which he thought deserved the careful attention of the House. It was well known that Dr. Frankland, one of the most eminent chemists in the world, was officially employed by the Government to analyze the water of various Water Companies. In a Report dated June he said that the water supply of three Companies—namely, the Southwark and Vauxhall, the Grand Junction, and the West Middlesex—drew water from the Thames, and that that water was so excessively polluted by organic matter as to be entirely unfit for dietetic purposes. But what was almost the next sentence in the Report? It was, that the water supplied by the Chelsea and Lambeth Companies, who drew it from exactly the same source—the Thames—was of a very superior quality; in fact, that it was even somewhat better in quality than the water of the New River Company, which drew its supplies from the springs at Amwell. It would, therefore, be imprudent hastily to condemn the present sources of supply, because, if that were done, the cost of improving the supply would be enormously increased. From that Report, it seemed to him that 920 two conclusions of paramount importance were to be drawn—that over a considerable area of London, supplied by the three Companies to which he had just referred, the people were drinking water which was unfit for human use, and that its inferiority was not due so much to the sources from which the supply was drawn, as to the fact that the water was badly stored and imperfectly filtered. In those circumstances, and seeing how desirable it was that insuperable obstacles should not be thrown in the way of the Government in improving the supply of water, by making the cost of any change too great, he would point out that what demanded their attention was the improvement, in the first place, of the mode of supply, and, when that was done, the perfecting, as far as possible, of the sources of supply. As to the mode of supply, every Commission and Committee which had inquired into the subject had arrived at the same conclusion, and that was, that the purest spring water which ever flowed from the mountain side must be spoilt if it was stored in such a manner as it was stored in the houses of the poorest classes in London at the present time. If pure water were placed in a cistern which was close to a cesspool in some damp and dingy back-yard, where soot and other kinds of filth could find their way into it, and if that cistern were filled only once a day, and had no fresh water poured into it for 48 hours—from Saturday morning till Monday morning—then the water treated in such a manner would become hopelessly contaminated. The quality of the water used affected the poor as well as the rich. If there was poisonous organic matter in it, it might find its victims among the latter as well as among the former class; but the mode of supply was a question which particularly concerned the poor. In large houses there were patent cisterns, in which, if water was put into them pure, it remained pure until it was used. As those who were acquainted with the condition of the habitations of the poorer classes in the Metropolis, however, knew, in the case of the hundreds of thousands of houses which were being erected for them, not to speak of those already in existence, the state of things was such that it was idle to expect that the water used in them could be free from pollution. The Bishop of London, 921 who for years had been one of the most hardworking of the parochial clergy in London, said that when he was rector of a Metropolitan parish there were no means in almost every one of the houses in which the poor resided in that parish of storing water, except the butt in the area, which, when filled, generally overflowed the basement, rendering the house so damp as to be most unhealthy; and he added that, as those who lived at the top of the house had to descend to the basement for every drop of water they required, a hopeless impediment was thrown in the way of the cleanliness of the people. The Bishop of London went on to remark that that state of things had not been one jot improved since he had left the parish; for, speaking only last week, he said that the system of having butts on the basement still continued, and that there was scarcely a house which even now had a constant supply of water. What, in those circumstances, could be a more idle farce than to seek to promote by means of legislation in that House habits of temperance among the people, when they had no water within their reach fit for use? The question was no Party one, and he might refer to another eminent divine, Cardinal Manning, than whom no one knew better the condition of the poor of London, and than whom no one had devoted his unselfish life to a greater extent to promote their welfare. Cardinal Manning said that the water supplied to the poor was such as to render it absolutely unfit to be drunk, and that they were, in consequence of its impure state, driven to the public-houses, and a fatal obstacle was thus placed in the way of all temperance movements. Again, Sir Charles Seed's experience as a member of the London School Board fully confirmed the view which was taken by Cardinal Manning, and Sir Charles Reed added—I know of my own knowledge that the children in our schools suffer most seriously from the bad water they have to drink, and they often say they wish they could get at home as good water as we supply them with in the playgrounds.But the question was not one affecting simply the morals and the health of the people; it was a question which also affected the safety of life and the security of property, because it had been shown conclusively, before the Committee over 922 which the present Secretary to the Treasury presided, that they could not in a large city like London have proper security against the risk of fire without an adequate supply of water. What happened when afire broke out? Why, the turncock had first to be sent for, necessitating, in many instances, the loss of half-an-hour before a supply of water at low pressure could be turned on, the consequence being that, in the meantime, the fire would probably have taken such hold of the premises that, in order to extinguish it, a volume of water had to be poured, upon the building, which often did more harm than the fire itself; whereas, if London possessed a supply of water at high pressure, such as that which Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, and other large cities had, the fire might be speedily extinguished with comparatively little damage to property. Before Manchester had the advantage in respect to the supply of water which it now possessed, he found that 21 per cent of the houses attacked by fire were destroyed; whereas, since, the number had been reduced from 21 to 6 per cent. Why was it, then, he would ask, that while almost every large town in the North of England had a constant supply of water, London should be left without the advantages in that respect which they enjoyed? It was sometimes said that it was because the cost of introducing a constant supply into London would be so very great; but the system of intermittent supply was, he contended, as wasteful as costly. He found that in London the average daily consumption of water per head of the population was 32 gallons, and in Manchester only 16 gallons; and he did not in the slightest degree exaggerate when he said that quite one-half of the water which was daily supplied to London was wasted, or worse. But now he came to the important question—Did London obtain any compensating advantages, by having its water at a lower cost than those towns which had a constant supply? He would show that the system in London was as costly as it was defective. Probably no people in England were paying such an excessive price for water as those of London, and the price, instead of diminishing, was constantly increasing. The water rate on rental was, on an average, 1s. 2d. per pound; in many instances it 923 was much higher. He had received letters which would show conclusively that the lower middle class, living in houses of £25 or £30 a-year, had to pay a water rate of 1s. 6d. in the pound; and, in many instances, notwithstanding this enormous charge, they had to go many hours without, water not being turned on for many hours together. On the other hand, in Glasgow—which was a most instructive case—they had not only to buy up the Water Companies which supplied the city with water, but they had to incur the expense of opening a new source of supply; yet the water rate, which had been 1s. 7d. in the pound, was now only 9d., which not only paid the entire outlay for the acquisition of the Water Companies' rights and the expenses of the now supply, but formed a considerable sinking fund, which would eventually accumulate enough to pay off the original outlay. The people of Glasgow were, therefore, receiving an admirable supply of water at something like half the cost now paid in London. But, not only was the price paid in London excessive, it was constantly increasing. In many instances the price had been doubled, in others trebled. Two years ago, the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North) stated to the House that, without obtaining a single additional gallon of water, or having its quality improved, his water rate had suddenly increased from £20 to £30; and, in many instances, in a still greater proportion. The mode in which this increase had been brought about was worthy the attention of the House. In 1869 an Act was passed, called Goschen's Valuation of the Metropolis Act. It was never intended to give Water Companies the power of almost indefinitely increasing their charges; it was simply an Act for re-valuation of the Metropolis, at periods of five years, for rating purposes. It must be obvious to the House that, so far as poor rates were concerned, if £3,000,000 had to be raised for Poor Law purposes, it made no difference whether those rates were levied on a high or a low standard of rental; but the case was quite different with respect to the charges of the Water Companies, because, as they levied charges on the gross rental, it was clear that, if the nominal rental in the valuation list was increased 20 or 30 per cent, the 924 water rate was proportionately increased, and the people, in return, did not get one single gallon of water more than before. That was exactly what the Water Companies had done. They claimed to levy their charges on the gross rental, whereas all rates for parochial or Imperial purposes were levied on the annual rated value. The charges, therefore, went on increasing. The basis of assessment for Imperial taxation and for the profit of private trading Companies was entirely different. He had lately seen an advertisement announcing the sale of a large number of shares in the New River Company. The auctioneer, parading the advantages of the investment, said the income of the Company must increase with the increase in the annual value of house property in London, and, according to the present rate of increase, it would in 20 years be something like 100 per cent. The auctioneer went on to say that between 1860 and 1872 the dividends on the shares of the Company had increased nearly 150 per cent. This additional amount had all been taken from the pockets of the unfortunate people of London. The New River Company supplied a considerable quantity of water in London, and, notwithstanding the great increase in their dividends, what had they done to improve the supply? Out of 150,000 houses they supplied with water, not more than 15,000 enjoyed the advantage of a constant supply. He thought the time had come when this indefinite increase of dividends should not be maintained at the cost of the health and convenience of the people of London. He thought he had proved three things—first, that the quality of the water in London was uncertain, and, in some instances, bad; second, that the mode of supply was radically defective; and, third, that the price paid for this imperfect and bad water was excessive. If, then, the present system was condemned on sanitary, moral, and financial grounds, what were the improvements which ought to be introduced, and how ought they to be carried out? Too much importance could not be attached to the assertion of this principle, that it was not safe to allow the supply of the first necessary of life to be administered for the purpose simply of increasing the profits of private trading Companies. Many mu- 925 nicipalities had taken the supply of gas into their own hands for the public advantage; and the case in favour of water was infinitely stronger, for there was an important difference, for example, between the supply of gas and the supply of water. If the gas was bad and the charge excessive, the householder might cut off the supply, and say to the Company—"Send me no more impure gas at your extravagant price." But, in regard to water, the people of London were the helpless victims of the Water Companies. The water might be unfit for dietetic purposes; but they had no means of improving it. They might know their health and that of their children was suffering but they could not go anywhere else for a supply, nor substitute anything in its place. But perhaps it might be said, could they not do something by more stringent legislation? Could they not impose more stringent regulations on the Water Companies, and thus remedy the present unsatisfactory state of things? His (Mr. Fawcett's) answer was, that was what they had been trying to do for the last 30 years. Act after Act had been passed to insure a constant supply of water, and he would now tell the House what had been the result. Practically, there was only one Company which gave a constant supply to a considerable extent, and that was the East London Company. In their district more than half the houses had a constant supply; but it was worthy of notice that it was at such a low pressure that the people often found themselves without water in their upper rooms. In the district supplied by the New River Company there were 15,000 houses, in the Kent Company's district 9,000, in the Lambeth Company's district 3,000, in the West Middlesex district 2,000, in the Southwark and Vauxhall district 450, which had a constant supply; in the Chelsea district scarcely any, and in the Grand Junction district not one. Therefore, after 30 years of effort, the result was that, excluding the East London Company's district, considerably less than 10 per cent of the houses of London had a constant supply. But that by no means exhausted the case, because the number of houses which had an intermittent supply, instead of diminishing, was increasing; or, in other words, the extension of the constant supply did not keep pace with 926 the growth of London; for, comparing 1872 and 1877, some 20,000 more houses were served with an intermittent supply in the latter year than in the former. In face of such facts, it seemed to him impossible to resist the conclusion that they required to go on a new tack, and to adopt a new course, to meet the state of things he had described, and that was the conclusion arrived at by every Committee and every Commission which had sat upon the subject. Wishing to confine his remarks as far as possible, he would simply refer to the Report of one of those Committees, and he laid particular stress upon it, because it was the latest Committee which had investigated the subject—he referred to the Committee known as Mr. Ritchie's Committee, over which the present Secretary to the Treasury presided. He was going to quote the very words of the Chairman—a responsible official of the Government—to prove his case, and to show what the hon. Gentleman and the Committee unanimously thought was required—Your Committee came to the conclusion that, in order to carry out such improvements as a constant supply and high pressure, it will be necessary to consolidate the superseded Water Companies under a single authority, which should administer the supply of water not so much for profit as for the public advantage.Now, as that was the unanimous conclusion of the Committee—a conclusion which he regarded as forming the basis of future action—two questions at once suggested themselves. In the first place, if the Companies were consolidated and placed under a single authority, what was the process of consolidation which should be adopted? And, secondly, when the consolidation had been effected, to what authority should the consolidation scheme be intrusted to be carried out? In speaking of the mode of consolidating the existing Companies he wished to speak with great caution; because, if he attempted to force from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department a premature opinion as to the terms on which he might acquire these Companies, his hands would be tied and great harm might be done. But he wished to throw out some suggestions which might strengthen the right hon. Gentleman's hands. No one would be so unreasonable as to desire, if such a 927 consolidation scheme were adopted, that these Companies should not be fairly compensated for the property they possessed; no one would be in favour of a policy of spoliation. But if the property of these Companies was required in the interest of the public, it was important to bear in mind that an extravagant price must not be extorted from the public, and the scandal of the telegraphs purchase must not be repeated. In speaking on this subject he felt a considerable amount of responsibility; but it seemed to him of the utmost importance to define exactly the nature of the property possessed by these Companies. It was sometimes said that they had an exclusive and permanent monopoly. That he must deny, and would assert that it was an entire mistake. He had searched through almost all the Water Companies' Acts, he had been assisted by one of the most eminent lawyers in that House, and he believed it to be absolutely impossible for the Companies to establish that claim. They had no exclusive or permanent monopoly, any more than the Gas Companies possessed. In certain districts, they had the right to place pipes in the streets; but, over and over again, this principle had been asserted with regard to the Gas Companies—that if it should be for the public advantage that a new Gas Company should be introduced into any town, that House reserved to itself the right of empowering it to do so without a penny compensation. Some time ago, an Act was passed to establish a now Gas Company in Cambridge; but not a penny compensation was awarded. In one Committee, presided over by Lord Cardwell, and in another, he believed, by the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, this doctrine was distinctly laid down—that if it should be for the public advantage to introduce a now supply of gas, that House would consider it simply as a question of the public advantage, and a new supply should be introduced without giving compensation to existing Companies. And that opinion could be confirmed, because, by the Sewers Act of 1856, and by one of the Metropolitan Board of Works Acts, the local authorities of the City and the Metropolitan Board had a right to sink wells and supply themselves with water without giving any compensation to the existing Companies. He was not making these re- 928 marks with the idea of advocating that the House should sanction the creation of new Companies to supply water to the entire Metropolis without compensating the existing Companies; but it was important to remind those Companies of the exact nature of their property, in order to convince them that we were not helpless victims in their hands, and that if they tried to place insuperable obstacles in the way of a great reform, and insisted upon an exorbitant price, Parliament had a weapon which it could use with effect. He advised that to prevent that exorbitant price being paid for their property the exact nature and character of it should first be ascertained. It was said that in acquiring this property there would be three elements of compensation—that the Water Companies would have to receive compensation, in the first place, on their gross income; secondly, on the prospective increase of their income; and, thirdly, for compulsory sale. But before we compensated them on the basis of their present income, it was of the first importance for the Secretary of State for the Home Department, or whoever dealt with the matter, to consider most carefully whether the whole income which the Companies now derived was fairly and legitimately obtained. In speaking of the manner in which, under Mr. Goschen's Act, the Companies had increased their charges, he had reason to believe that they had no legal or equitable right to impose such charges as they had lately done. If that could be established, it would be wrong to use the money of the people in compensating the Water Companies for having, during the last few years, taken from the public a great deal more than they were justified either in law or equity in taking. Now, he might be asked—"What are the advantages you hope to gain from consolidation?" In the first place, the Committee he had already quoted had said that without consolidation we could get no constant supply, and without a constant supply, however good the water was, it would become so bad in store, in the case of the poor, as to make it unfit for use. Secondly, there would be a great saving from consolidation in many ways. No less than £18,000 a-year was paid by the various Companies in Directors' fees. This part of the subject had been most carefully investigated, and 929 those most competent to express an opinion said that the saving, under the head of management, resulting from consolidation would be no less than £100,000 a-year. Thirdly, there would be the greatest possible economy with regard to the construction of new works. Anyone who went up the Thames, as he was in the habit of doing, must know perfectly well that two small works were often used to supply two contiguous districts, which might be more cheaply and efficiently supplied by one larger reservoir and set of works. There would also be a great saving in pipes. He knew the Water Companies tried industriously to frighten the ratepayers of London, by saying that if their rights were acquired, a great additional charge would be imposed on the rates. But all experience proved the contrary. Wherever constant supply and consolidation had been introduced, there the rates had been diminished 50, 60, 70, and, in some instances, 100 per cent, and the quality and supply of water had, at the same time, proportionately improved. It would not be necessary to raise a large loan. It would be perfectly possible to create a Water Stock at 3½ per cent. No inconsiderable portion of the capital of the Companies was in debentures, bearing interest at 4 and 4½ per cent, whereas, on the security of the Metropolis, money could be raised certainly at not more than 3½ per cent. If Manchester, if Birmingham, if Glasgow, and almost every other large town in the country—if Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, nay, even Calcutta, had a far better and cheaper supply of water than we had, why should London submit any longer to be treated worse than those cities? He now came to consider what, after all, was the most difficult part of the problem—namely, when the Companies were consolidated, what was the authority to whom we should intrust the work to be done? No doubt, the solution of the problem was more difficult in London than in Birmingham, Manchester, and other provincial towns, because London had properly no municipal government. Some friends of his had asked him to wait for the creation of a new municipality. We might as well wait for the Greeks Kalends; but he was not sure, if we had one great municipality, the work would be done as well as by a division of labour. The work would be 930 too large. Then he might be asked whether he wanted to intrust the work to the Metropolitan Board of Works. In the absence of his hon. and gallant Friend the Chairman of the Board (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), he would not say a single word to disparage that body. But, undoubtedly, the Metropolitan Board did not, and, he believed, would not, until elected in a different manner, sufficiently possess the confidence of the ratepayers to have the management of the water supply of the Metropolis intrusted to it. The Board was already overworked, and it would be most unwise to throw on it this additional duty. Then, again, it was said—"Why do you not leave this matter to the Metropolitan Board, and why do you ask the Government to take it up?" A conclusive reason, which showed that it was absolutely impossible that this question should be dealt with by the Metropolitan Board, or any other local authority, would be found in the procedure of that House. If a Water Bill for any provincial town was introduced, it was a private Bill; it was referred to a Select Committee, and, if the Committee approved, the Bill was passed. But, with regard to London, a different system of Parliamentary procedure prevailed. He had consulted the authorities of the House on the subject, and he found that a Water Bill for I London would be treated as a Public Bill, and what chance was there of an independent Member forcing a Public Bill of such magnitude through the House, unless he was assisted by the Government?—and if the Government were willing to assist, it would be far better that they should make themselves directly responsible for what was done. After the experience of the last few weeks, many a long year would elapse before the Metropolitan Board would have anything to do with the question of the water supply in London, for the unfortunate members of that Board were surcharged £16,000 out of their own income, for the praiseworthy efforts they had made to improve our water supply, and were it not for the assistance they received from the Government, they would have been obliged to pay that surcharge. He did not want to ask the House prematurely to express itself in favour of this or that particular schmee. He did not want the House to tell the Secretary of State for the Home De- 931 partment, he must do this work in one way rather than another; but it seemed to him that when the Companies were consolidated, a public Water Commission might be appointed for the administration of this consolidated property. At any rate, what was important was this—that whatever authority was appointed to do the work should be appointed in the interest of the public. With regard to his Resolution, he had carefully worded it, so as not to ask the House to express itself in favour of any particular scheme. He had shown, however, that the mode of supply in London was so bad that it must be remedied, that the quality of the water was so bad that it must be improved, and that the cost was so excessive that it must be diminished. He hoped the Government would not oppose his Resolution, or ask him to withdraw it. If passed, it would certainly strengthen the hands of the Government, because, no doubt, they would have many obstacles to surmount; and the hands of the right hon. Gentleman would be strengthened if he could say that if he had those difficulties to en-encounter, they must be vanquished, because the House of Commons had unanimously resolved that the existing state of things must be remedied, and the matter must be dealt with by the Government. In conclusion, he had to thank the House. The subject was a large one, and he had endeavoured to condense his remarks. He had no Party motive in bringing this subject forward. If he had only thought of Party, he should be inclined to let a Liberal Government have the credit of solving this great problem, because he knew that whatever Government solved it would confer an inestimable boon upon the millions who lived in London and would justly earn the gratitude of posterity. But it was not a Party question; it was a question which could not wait. It was a question which concerned the health and moral well-being of the Metropolis, and, such being the case, he earnestly recommended it to the favourable consideration of the House and the Government.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he did not propose to enter into the very elaborate argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett); but he wished, as representing that Department of the Government 932 which had been for some years intrusted with the duty and responsibility of supervising the action of the Water Companies, to make a few observations in reply to the able speech the House had just heard. In the first place, he would express his sense of the great forbearance and moderation with which, on the whole, the hon. Gentleman had dealt with this important and difficult question; but he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) must say he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman in all the criticisms he had made. In particular, some of the hon. Member's statements as to the excessive prices and the bad quality of the water might, on examination, be discovered to be less well founded than he supposed. But he admitted there was a great deal in the case which the hon. Member had brought forward, and which he had supported by a very powerful consensus of opinion, which required the attentive consideration of the Government. As he had said, he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) spoke on behalf of the Department charged for five or six years with the supervision of the Water Companies. There was a great deal in the existing law which enabled supervision to be exercised over the Water Companies in some respects, but not in all. Over the question of a constant and intermittent supply, there was some supervision, and if the extension of the constant supply had not been as rapid as could be desired, there had been some progress. There was, however, no power whatever to interfere with the statutory rights of the Companies with respect to the rates they charged. He would admit that in consequence of the recent action of the Water Companies, that was a matter which required the intervention of Parliament. The hon. Member had divided his subject under three heads—namely, as to the quality of water, the mode of supply, and the price. As regarded the quality of the water, he extremely rejoiced that the hon. Member had withdrawn himself altogether from the assumption that a new source of supply was absolutely necessary for the satisfaction of the people of London. The hon. Gentleman had very wisely severed himself altogether from that view of the subject. It would greatly increase the difficulties of the subject to insist on a new source of supply, for as soon as we made that a postulate in dealing with it, we entirely got rid of 933 any possibility of effecting economy in the charges on the people. Assuming for a moment that £20,000,000, or any sum which might be named, would be required to buy up the existing Water Companies, and to improve the distribution by means of economy in administration, we should entirely destroy the whole of our chance of economy and diminished cost, if we insisted that, in addition to the existing sources of supply, some new source should be found and water conveyed from it to every householder in London. Therefore, he had heard with great satisfaction the hon. Gentleman's observations on that head. The hon. Gentleman had quoted, with some unction, one of the well-known Reports by Dr. Frankland, who spoke highly of the water which was supplied by the Chelsea Company, in comparison with that of other Companies, and which, at that moment, appeared to be in a satisfactory condition. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth) could, however, point to a number of other Reports which took an exactly opposite view of their relative purity. The fact was, that these monthly Reports could only be relied on for what they were worth at the time. It was evident, however, from the variation in the Reports of Dr. Frankland, that these Companies could, and with proper care and caution did, supply sufficiently good water for the use of the inhabitants of London. He did not, in saying this, rely upon his own opinion in this matter, nor would he say, on the other hand, that the supply was not capable of improvement. We must have some regard to what our Predecessors had done. The Duke of Richmond's Commission in 1866, after a most elaborate investigation, made a distinct Report in favour of retaining the existing sources of water supply as being sufficient in quantity for many years to come, and capable of being supplied with due regard to quality. That recommendation was examined by the Select Committee of that House, over which Mr. Ayrton presided, and of which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was himself a Member; and the Committee distinctly endorsed that opinion. From that time to the present, continuous efforts had been made, under the provisions of the Thames Conservancy Act, at great cost, to improve the condition of the Thames water. Therefore, unless we took a new stand-point, and insisted upon a new 934 standard of quality, we might assume that the existing sources of supply were sufficient for our purpose. He was not prepared, however, to deny for a moment that there was something wrong and anomalous in regard both to the quality and the cost, and in the mode of distribution. This was obvious from the fact that no fewer than five Companies drew their water from the Thames, without having any means of facilitating arrangements inter se. Again, with regard to the variability of the charges made by the Companies, he entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman that something ought to be done; and that there should be no variation in the charges of the Water Companies without some corresponding improvement in the quality of the water. The House was probably aware that there was a notice annually inserted in the Local Government Board's Report of the proceedings which had been taken during the year in regard to this particular subject-matter of their administration. The Report recently issued stated that considerable advance had been made in extending a constant water supply to the Metropolis. The number of houses to which a constant supply had been extended during the last 12 months was no less than 20,768. The Report went on to state that the supply of water frequently deteriorated after having been delivered by the Companies into the cisterns of the houses. This was a very well-known fact. The moment the question of a constant supply was raised, it became necessary to improve the cisterns, &c. The owners and occupiers of houses in London frequently objected to this; and, indeed, they were themselves the great obstacle in the way of a constant supply. That difficulty must in some way be got over, and nothing was more important than the consideration of the means of surmounting it. Although the statements of the Bishop of London, of Cardinal Manning, and of others who spoke in Exeter Hall the other day, were doubtless true as far as they went, he could not admit, on the other hand, that no advance had been made towards a constant supply. There was already a constant supply to a great many important thoroughfares and streets of London. With regard to the price of the water, he was not sure that he could agree with the hon. Member for Hackney. Taking London all round, the price 935 charged for water was not so heavy as the hon. Gentleman seemed to suppose. On the contrary, he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was informed that, taking the whole of London, the price for water was less than it was in Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said it was. A thousand gallons cost in London between 8d. and 9d., in Glasgow the cost was 9d., and in Manchester and Liverpool about 1s.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he had never pretended that the cost per gallon was more in London. There was so much waste of water in London, that it was not a fair comparison to refer to the price per 1,000 gallons. What he contended was that the rates were higher in London than in Glasgow and other towns.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
quite agreed with that. The mode in which the rates were charged might be objectionable; but, at the same time, the actual cost to London of this water was not so great as people commonly supposed, and, assuming that we were to purchase the Companies, with an additional expenditure of £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 for a fresh supply, we should be removing the question of economy to a distance which was almost incalculable. He believed that the operation of the system under which the charges were made upon the ratepayers in London was certainly injurious to the smaller class of householders, and that the houses of the wealthy did not pay so much in proportion as the houses of the poorer classes. At the same time, it should be remembered that the Companies had statutory provisions, and there was really no means of escape from the fact that, although they had from time to time raised their charges, they had not, as he was told, in any one case gone to the maximum of the charge which they might levy, while the figures before him showed that they were very very much within the maximum, taking London on the average. As regarded the effects which the quality of the water supplied to the Metropolis might have upon its inhabitants, he had obtained a Return from the Registration Office, in order to show the death-rate in the different quarters of the town which were supplied by the eight dif- 936 ferent Companies. It showed, at all events, that the water supply was not so bad in any part of London as to have an appreciable effect on the death-rate. He found that in the districts supplied by two of the Thames Companies—the Grand Junction and the West Middlesex—the death-rate was 18.1 and 19.6, whereas in the district supplied by the Kent Company, it was 21.1. In the district supplied by the New River Company, which was equal in extent to Manchester and Liverpool, the death-rate was a good deal higher than it was in the two Thames Companies' districts. If it were true that the water was as bad as many of the gentlemen who wrote to the newspapers were apt to assume, he thought they would see some more perceptible results flowing from it than the death-rate Returns exhibited. He had stated the other day, in reply to an hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Andrew Lusk), how much had been done of late years to improve the condition of the Thames, and he was convinced that in the course of a few years, the Thames would be as free from pollution as it was possible for a river in the circumstances to be. He was far from saying that the result would be as satisfactory as could be wished; but when they came to inquire into the cost of bringing water to London from Derbyshire or from Wales, he thought they must look at this matter from the point of view of common sense and of reasonable economy, and not merely from the standard of requirements which a scientific purist might deem desirable. With regard to the remedy which the hon. Gentleman proposed, he would not enter into that, because he did not wish to anticipate what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department might say at the close of the debate, nor did he think it expedient to go at all into the discussion of that subject. But he might say that one of the great difficulties of the question of the area supplied by the Water Companies was that it extended so far beyond the area of the Metropolis. The Metropolis was really not one-quarter of the size of the districts which those Companies had control over, and, therefore, it was extremely difficult to combine a unification of the Water Companies with any municipal authority within the metropolitan area. It would not be 937 just to charge the districts lying exclusively within the Metropolis with the cost of creating a Water Stock, and they had no power to charge the rates of those extended districts for anything of that kind. The powers of the Companies over their districts enabled them to charge the consumers of water for the water they supplied; but no means existed, that he knew of, by which the rateable value of the extra metropolitan parts of those districts could be rendered chargeable for the capital that would be required for the purchase of those rights. That would have raised a formidable difficulty, even if there had been no other objection, to the proposals made last year and the year before by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The indication by the hon. Gentleman of the best solution to which he saw his way was one much more practicable than that proposed by his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) last year. But the question was one of great difficulty and importance, and he would not enter further into it at this time. In summing up, he would merely say that, in his judgment, it was possible to exaggerate the mischiefs of the existing system, and thus to increase the difficulty of obtaining any practical reform; that it was reasonable that the five Thames Water Companies should be placed under some system of unification; that it was desirable that the supply should be put under some uniform and central administration for London; and that the economy which might be effected by superseding the separate management of the companies would be considerable, although it would not amount to £100,000 a-year, as the hon. Member had assumed; and even against that saving must be set the outlay for improving the means of distribution. He might add that, although the authority exercised through the Government Department which had this matter in charge had, he believed, been carefully and judiciously exercised since the constitution of the Local Government Board, he was not at all prepared to say that their power was sufficient for redressing all the complaints which reached them. On the other hand, he was bound, in fairness, to admit that the Water Companies showed an earnest desire to remedy mischiefs as far as they could do so compatibly with their existing 938 practice and operations. He had found the greatest readiness on their part to meet any complaint or suggestion that was from time to time offered for their consideration, whether as regarded the construction of new works or the furnishing of a constant supply. That reference to new works reminded him of a point made by the hon. Gentleman with great force—namely, that the engineers of those eight different bodies, not acting together, nor in consultation with each other, nor under one central supervision, recommended frequently to their Companies a duplicate and extensive system of works, to be carried out at an enormous cost, for the supply of their particular districts, which must be prejudicial to the consumer as well as to the Companies, and that vast sums of money might be saved if some central control were exercised over their operations in that respect. In conclusion, he would only compliment the hon. Gentleman again on the general moderation of his speech, and also express a hope that he would not expect to elicit anything very specific from the Government on that occasion.
§ MR. ARTHUR PEEL
said, that his excuse for intervening in this debate was that, 14 years ago, he had sat on a Committee of that House appointed to consider the subject under discussion. One of the incidental parts of the Report of that Committee was, that the several Water Companies of London should contribute the sum of £5,000 each to have the sources of the water supply of the Metropolis looked after, in order that the water they supplied to their customers should be of a purer quality. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had observed upon the inconvenience of taking a new source of supply as a postulate upon any arguments upon the subject, and he had complimented the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) upon the fact that he had put out of view any other source for our water supply than the Thames. On that point, he (Mr. Arthur Peel) begged to differ from both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Hackney, because he did not think that they should disregard altogether the possibility of obtaining water for the supply of the Metropolis from any other source than that of the river. While far from advocating 939 that we should look to Plinlimmon or the Welsh mountains, where the rainfall amounted to some 75 inches per annum, for our metropolitan water supply, he did not think that the possibility of improving our present water supply should be altogether disregarded. The hon. Member for Hackney had dwelt with great force upon the way in which this question of water supply affected the poorer classes of the Metropolis, and especially upon the evil resulting from an intermittent water supply and from the water being stored in butts. Something had been said with regard to the manner in which the water was stored for the use of the West End Clubs; but the evil was magnified ten-fold in the East End of London. The sixth Report of the Commission upon the Pollution of Rivers was a great reservoir of information on this subject, and it showed how much the Legislature had neglected to look after the interests of the poorer classes in the matter of water supply. By the Metropolitan Water Act of 1862, the Legislature forbade the Water Companies from storing large quantities of water within five miles of St. Paul's; and it was a proof of the inconsistency of the Legislature that they, at the same time, permitted water to be stored in the poorer districts of London in small quantities in foul water-butts. Surely, they went on to urge, the care which was enforced by law as to the use of open reservoirs for drinking water within five miles of Charing Cross ought, before this, to have been called in to check a system by which the water was necessarily exposed gallon by gallon and house by house in small reservoirs to far fouler exhalations than could possibly be imagined to exist in the open air of any London suburb. The arguments of the hon. Member for Hackney as to the necessity of putting the management of the water supply under one public body were very strong and, he might even venture to say, unanswerable. The hon. Member had dwelt upon the enormous advantages that resulted from the municipal management in Glasgow, both with respect to the purity of the water and to the saving in the rates; and in regard to all that, he (Mr. Arthur Peel) ventured to think they would agree with the hon. Member. There were, he believed, eight Companies who dealt with the water supply of London. 940 Of these, four had adopted the constant supply system. It was said that, in fact, the supply was not actually constant, but only intermittent. Still, the fact remained that four Companies had adopted what was at least nominally a system of constant supply. Two of these were the New River Company and the East London Company; and if they could give a constant supply to such districts as Newington and Shoreditch, the arguments against a constant supply to other portions of the Metropolis were very much weakened. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, he understood, was to favour them with his views upon the subject, what had been done with the large sums of money contributed by the Water Companies for the purification of the Thames? The amount used to be £5,000, but was now, he believed, much larger. How was that money expended? The Companies, who had appeared by counsel before the Committee, declared that they would not have boon justified in offering even £5,000 per annum, if it were not that the Bill contained express provisions for the purification of the river. What steps had been taken to purify the river in the sense intended? The necessity of having some public body to manage the water supply had been dwelt on both by the Commission of 1869, and also by the Committee on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, which reported in 1877. Both had reported in favour of some public and responsible body. The advantages to be derived from such a body were unity of action in cleansing the source of supply, and in securing a constant supply to the inhabitants. The authorities who clashed with one another in dealing with this question were well known to the House. There were the Metropolitan Board of Works, who burnt their fingers in attempting to deal with the subject in 1878, and the Thames Conservancy Body, whose Report for 1878 had just been laid upon the Table of the House. In that Report, the Conservators stated, that as soon as the sewage works at Oxford were completed, there would be no sewage coming into the Thames above the sources of the London supply. The Conservators were very sanguine. If that were true, it would, be a considerable argument in favour of the present 941 supply. But he did not believe they could have examined all the sources, from which contamination came throughout the whole course of the stream; but even if they had, no account was taken of that vast area of land from which water percolated into the river, bringing with it, in times of flood, immense quantities of the most foul manures. Floods were on the increase, and the quantity of foul matter they introduced into the stream was incalculable. He most heartily agreed with the hon. Member for Hackney, that the supply of such a necessary of life as water ought to be managed by a public body; and that that public body should not be subject to the caprices of a commercial body, or to the requirements of shareholders, and to the fluctuations of policy, which a regard to their sole interests involved. He thought the hon. Gentleman had done great public service in calling attention to the subject, even at that late period of the Session. His Motion contained no reference to cost, and nothing to which the Government could not agree. He, therefore, earnestly hoped they would accept it.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that no one who had hoard the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) could fail to be grateful to him for having brought that subject forward, and for having done so in a speech of very great research and moderation, and with an evidently earnest desire to carry out his object, whether the Motion passed or not. He (Mr. Assheton Cross) wished to say that this was a question which had been brought under his notice for some time past. It had received a great amount of consideration already, and would receive, he hoped, still more. He had received deputations on the subject from a great number of influential persons of all classes in the Metropolis, and no one who had gone into the question, as it had been his duty to do, could believe that it was possible to set it aside, without a most stringent inquiry as to whether any measures ought to be adopted, and, if so, what ought to be done for the purpose of remedying the evils complained of. Undoubtedly, the matter had been so prominently brought before him that even, although no Motion had been presented to the House, he would have been guilty of great dereliction of duty if he had 942 not undertaken to investigate the subject very carefully. The hon. Member for Hackney had submitted three special points as deserving of serious consideration. They were these—(1) The quality of the water supplied; (2) the mode of the supply; and (3) its cost. The hon. Member asked very fairly—"Cannot you improve the quality of the water; cannot you secure a much greater efficiency in the mode of supply; and cannot you manage to do this at a diminished cost?" First of all, with reference to the quality of the water, whatever view they took of that which had been done—and he quite agreed that a great deal had been done to improve it in late years—it was impossible for anyone to say that the quality of the present supply was such as could be wished. This was quite sufficient to engage the attention of a Minister when the question had once been brought under his notice. The hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Arthur Peel) had entered into a very large question, and one which would have considerable bearing on the last of the points raised by the hon. Member for Hackney; for, besides discussing the supply of water from existing sources, he had suggested what would necessarily be a very large scheme—namely, that of drawing it from new sources for the sake of securing additional purity. That was a scheme that could not be undertaken without incurring a very great expenditure of money.
§ MR. ARTHUR PEEL
, interposing, said, that his idea was that the water of the Thames might be reserved for certain purposes, while recourse was also had to other sources, such as deep wells in the chalk, and the like.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
could not discuss the details of any such scheme on the present occasion; but he felt that any such undertaking would be attended by great expense. He wished, while he was speaking on the subject of the water supply, to mention the exertions of Cardinal Manning, and to bear his testimony to the care with which he had investigated the question, and to the integrity of the purpose with which he had sought to benefit the poorer classes. In his own opinion, putting aside the question of the sources of supply, a vast amount of impurity was directly, due to the mode in which water was kept in 943 dwelling-houses; and in this connection he thought that the powers which were placed in the Vestries might be exercised with greater vigour than at present for the purpose of securing that cisterns and other receptacles for water were clean and in a proper condition. In a great city like London the mode of storage of water ought to be far better than it was. The actual supply, too, ought to be much improved. He quite admitted that the Companies had already done a good deal, and probably would do more; but no one could be satisfied with the supply at present, or as long as the pressure was not constant. Before Londoners had a right to be satisfied, the water supply would have to be sufficient for all purposes, both for domestic uses and for the extinction of fires and the watering of the streets. Of course, he did not wish to impose upon the Companies any duties not immediately connected with the supply of water; watering the streets and putting out fires were matters wholly beyond the province of any Government Body, as far as the supply of water was concerned; and they only insisted that there should be an ample supply for the use of those to whom those duties belonged. He did not wish to institute any comparison of the water supply of London with that of other large cities, for elsewhere the supply was provided in very different circumstances. Nor would he assert off-hand that large towns could not be satisfactorily supplied with water by private trading Companies. He thought it most unfair to make sweeping charges against Water Companies in general; though, at the same time, the local authorities might be very well charged with the supply. He wished rather to free some of the Companies from the serious charge that they had neglected the public interest for their own private advantage. He quite concurred, however, with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), that the Water Companies, by the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, had been placed, without an effort on their part, in any enormously advantageous position, from which the consumer had derived no benefit whatever. Passing on to the question of cost, he would remind the House that, at present, there was no power of any kind, or in any form, by which the Companies could be controlled, 944 if only they kept within their statutory limit of charges. The question had been mooted about two years ago, and he had been obliged to ask in return what power he possessed, if the Companies did not exceed their privileges. That was a point for the future consideration of Parliament; but it might be doubted whether, as the hon. Member for Hackney had suggested, any change for the better would be effected by more stringent regulations. The Select Committee, presided over by the Secretary to the Treasury, had gone specially into the subject, and their Report was well worthy of the attention of the House. The hon. Member for Hackney had said, very properly, that he was obliged to treat that part of the subject with great caution; he (Mr. Assheton Cross) thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member that it would not be judicious in that debate to treat it otherwise than with caution, considering how much money had been spent on the stock of the Companies, and the effect that the debates or transactions of the House might have on the price of that stock. For that reason he would not discuss the monopoly of the Companies, or the principles of the compensation alluded to by the hon. Member for Hackey. No doubt, there was much to be said in favour of the view the hon. Member had taken; but it was not desirable that Parliament should express its opinion on the question. How far the best course would be to buy up the interests of the Companies was a matter for future discussion; but he might venture to say that, in the face of the difficulties that would have to be surmounted, it would probably not be worth while to encourage the amalgamation of Companies. He wished, however, to guard himself against being understood to express the opinion of the Government. He was not prepared to deny the assertion of the hon. Member, that a great saving might be made if they were to be consolidated and handed over to a Board; that might, perhaps, be so, and it was likely that a saving would be effected, not only in the expense of direction and management, but also in the reduction of the waste consumption. The whole question, however, would require careful investigation, in order to discover in what way such a reduction of expense might be brought about as would render possible a con- 945 stant supply at considerable pressure, without any increase in the cost of the water. The hon. Member for Hackney had stated that the cost of water to the consumer was greater in London than in other towns. He (Mr. Assheton Cross) was disposed to agree with him on that point; for, though he had not completely inquired into the matter, the calculations he had made all led him to that conclusion. The House was of opinion, and had already decided, that the Metropolitan Board ought not to undertake the water supply of London, and there were many reasons why they were an unfit body to do so. One, and the principal one, was that the water supply extended far beyond the area of their jurisdiction, and that those who resided outside that area might never consent to come under their jurisdiction. That had always presented itself to his mind as a conclusive reason why the water supply should not be handed, over to the Metropolitan Board of Works. He had already said that the subject not only required attention, but immediate and serious attention. From the manner in which the public mind had been engaged with this question, especially during the last few years, it was clear that matters could not be allowed to rest as they were. They were asked to deal, however, with a very difficult question, and could not well draw comparisons between Manchester or Liverpool and London. A vast amount of money had been invested in the stock of the Water Companies, and if any notion was to go forth that a transaction was to take place such as that suggested by the hon. Member for Hackney, there would be a disturbance in the value of the stocks of the Companies which might result in the greatest injury and disappointment. On behalf of the Government, he was prepared to state this—If the Motion were carried, he believed it would produce the result to which he had just alluded; but he was as anxious as anyone could be that the whole subject should be thoroughly investigated, and he was perfectly willing to undertake that the question should be looked into in all its bearings before the House met again, with the view of seeing whether the supply of water could not be greatly improved for the benefit of the inhabitants of London; whether, if that were done, it could be done without seriously increasing the 946 cost of the supply to the individual consumer; whether the mode of supply could not be vastly improved; whether it would be necessary for the purpose that the whole of the Water Companies should—of course, by agreement—surrender their powers to some body which should be practically appointed by the Government; and whether that would be the only way in which, if the Companies were dealt with at all, they could be dealt with. He would not like to express any opinion upon that point. All he could undertake to say was that, before Parliament met again, such an investigation should be made as would, in his opinion and in the opinion of the Government, satisfy both sides of the House. Under these circumstances, he hoped the hon. Member for Hackney would not press his Motion to a division. For his part, he could not speak more frankly than he had done. He was perfectly alive to the importance of the subject and to the necessity for immediate inquiry. There were difficulties to be got over, but they were not, he thought, such as could not be surmounted, and he therefore, as he had said, trusted that the hon. Member for Hackney would not tie the hands of the Government in the matter by going to a division. To do so at that particular moment would, in his opinion, have a very injurious effect upon the value of the stocks of the Water Companies. It might raise hopes among their servants which could not possibly be realized, and, on the other hand, it might cause a serious depression in the value of the stocks. He wished only to add that if the Government did undertake a scheme which might be recommended, they would not have regard to any prospective addition to the value of the stocks of the Water Companies. They would take those stocks as they found them on such a day as, say, the last day of the last half-year, and no speculative change in the value of the stocks or the action of the Companies would have the smallest weight with the Government in any proposal they might have to make. That he wished to be most clearly understood by all those who might desire to deal in the stocks of the Water Companies either by buying or selling. If the Government undertook any such scheme, they would do so only on the conditions he had stated.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) deserved their thanks for having brought this subject forward, and it was due to Her Majesty's Government to add that the statement just made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was altogether satisfactory. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division. The thanks of the House, too, he thought, were also due to Cardinal Manning and the Bishop of London, for the action they had taken out-of-doors upon the subject. His hon. Friend the Member for Warwick (Mr. Arthur Peel) had expressed a hope that the Government would accept the Resolution. Well, the acceptance by the Government of a Resolution was sometimes a prudent course to adopt; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had shown sufficient reason why it should not be adopted on the present occasion. Very great satisfaction would, he thought, be felt, both in that House and throughout the country, at the character of that speech; although, hereafter, there might be differences of opinion as to the mode in which a particular scheme should be given effect to. On one point only did he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) differ from his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, and that was as to the quality of the present water supply. The opinions expressed on that subject at the late meeting at Exeter Hall were founded on official documents, and his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney had relied rather on the less disputed points of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had stated that the House ought to have some regard to the opinions of their Predecessors, and had quoted the opinions of two Committees which had considered the subject; but since that time—in 1871—another Committee, presided over by the present Chairman of Committees, had sat, and the Report, which was drawn up by the right hon. Gentleman who at present presided over the deliberations of the House, spoke of the evils of the present system of supply, and although the Committee made no recommendations, the Report was in favour of a change in the present source 948 of supply. The Reports for the present year, which he had had an opportunity of seeing, confirmed the view of Dr. Frankland that the existing sources of supply could not be improved to the extent required in such a town as London. Representing, as he did, a district which was partly supplied by a company, the Chelsea Waterworks Company, which had spent larger sums of money than any other in trying to purify the existing sources of supply, and, judging from the result of those efforts, and efforts made in the same direction by other Companies, he did not think that even a resort to larger areas for subsidence and to storage for long periods would make the existing sources of supply satisfactory in character. The Reports of Colonel Bolton showed that, in spite of the great expenditure which the Companies had incurred, a worse state of things existed last year than ever before, and in the present year matters were still less satisfactory. That being the case, he could not share the very hopeful views of the President of the Local Government Board, who contended that it would be possible, by continuing the steps that had already been taken, to render innocuous the existing sources of supply. For his own part, he was strongly disposed to think that those sources would never be satisfactory. In conclusion, he wished to tender his thanks to the hon. Member for Hackney, by whose efforts the Secretary of State for the Home Department had been induced to bring his mind to the question of how the difficulty could be best dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman's promise to the House had brought the whole question to a stage more advanced than any which it had hitherto occupied.
§ MR. BAILLIE-COCHRANE
said, he was glad that a question of so much importance had been brought forward, for it was intimately connected with the health, welfare, and sobriety of a great part of the population. It must be admitted that the question was well worth considering, when it was remembered that in London the deaths caused by fire were three times as numerous as those in any other great city in the Kingdom, and that this state of things was in great measure due to the deficiency of the water supply. Everyone, he thought, would admit that the supply in London was neither sufficient in 949 quantity nor constant. From his own personal observations, he was in a position to say that the state of the water supply in the East End of London was a disgrace to civilization. In that quarter of the town there were houses, as had already been observed, dependent for their supply of water upon butts so placed as to catch the rain water. It was the fashion now to talk a great deal about the necessity of education, and we spent enormous sums upon instructing the masses; but, in his opinion, the provision of what was required to confirm the poor in habits of cleanliness and decency was a question of still greater importance than that of education. In all the cities of Europe it would be found that there was a better supply of water than in London, and it was even the worst supplied in that respect in this Kingdom. Manchester had spent about £6,000,000 in order to obtain a proper supply, and £10,000,000, he held, would be well spent in securing a good supply for the Metropolis. He contended that economy would be the result, if they grappled with the difficulties of the question at once. But by any arrangement that might be made, however, he hoped we should not be tied to the Water Companies, who had not, up to the present time, adequately fulfilled the duties intrusted to them, and therefore could not be said to have given the least satisfaction. He suggested that the Government should turn their attention to the whole question of metropolitan improvement, and frame a Bill to meet all the difficulties connected with Water Companies, Gas Companies, &c. By doing this, they would be more likely to immortalize their term of office than by any other course which they could follow.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he wished to pass under review some of the observations made in the course of the debate; and, first, he wished to correct the erroneous impression that would be caused by the statement of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) with reference to the cost of water in the Metropolis. The sum paid for water for domestic purposes, instead of being 1s. 2d. in the pound on the rental, as the hon. Member had said, was in reality something like 7¼d. His hon. Friend held that the Water Companies had availed themselves of the increase which they had been able 950 to surcharge on their customers since the passage of the Act of his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen). He (Mr. Samuda) had not the exact figures before him; but he believed the New River Company had charged for their supplies on only one-third the annual value of the property in the City of London, which came to about 6½d. on the gross, or 8d. on the rental, value over the whole district supplied by the New River Company. These figures ought to have been quoted by his hon. Friend, when comparing the New River Company with other Companies whose charge averaged 1s. He agreed with a great deal of what had been said as to the difficulties which must necessarily arise in dealing with this matter; and he was also clear that it would be unwise to intrust the whole control and management of the water supply to the Metropolitan Board of Works. That body was wholly unfitted for such a duty, seeing that their district only ranged over 120 miles; while the Water Companies' district extended over 520. He thought a Water Commission might be constituted which would act with uniformity and with advantage to the ratepayers; and it would insure harmonious action between the different Companies if such Commission were composed of representatives from each Company and of parties acting on behalf of the Government. The main difficulty that would arise in selecting a body to whom the water supply should be intrusted would be the largely-increased area over which the operations of any such body must necessarily extend. He would suggest, however, that that difficulty might to some considerable extent be got over by limiting the interest of the existing Companies to such stock as they possessed under the existing legislative powers intrusted to them, and by adopting the auction clauses in future Bills, or some such means, so as to give the ratepayers a kind of reversionary interest in all sums raised in future for the purposes of the water supply of the Metropolis. He could not for a moment admit the practicability of the suggestion that there should be separate mains—one for the supply of potable water, and the other by means of which the Metropolis should be supplied with water for washing and domestic purposes, for the extin- 951 guishing of fires, and other purposes in reference to which water of the purest quality was not required. Such an arrangement would never work in practice; and, in addition, it would involve immense increase in cost and public annoyance by the constant extra disturbance of streets for repairs of mains. As to the quality of the water, he thought joint action on the part of the Companies might be expected to produce pure water; for it was shown that out of the five Companies who took their water from the Thames, three Companies were objected to, while in the case of the other two, the water was said to be admirable. If, however, it became necessary to seek other sources of supply, the case became a very serious one. Then he saw no way out of the difficulty except taking the powers out of the hands of the Companies, and giving them fair compensation. He believed, however, that, as far as the present sources of supply were concerned, it had been fully shown before the Commissions and Committees on the subject, that the Thames and Lea and the deep wells in the chalk could supply as much water as was likely to be necessary for 30 years to come, even though the requirements went on increasing in the same ratio as in the 30 years last past. To utilize the whole supply that could be drawn from the Thames would, of course, involve the expenditure of a large sum of money; but this expenditure would be spread over an increased and increasing population, and would not, therefore, be likely to add much, if anything, to the water rates; but if the supply was to be drawn, not from the Thames, but from the Welsh lakes or any other distant source, the cost would be immensely increased, as, according to Mr. Bateman, the cost of such an operation would be £160,000 for every 1,000,000 gallons supplied per day. The whole cost would, therefore, amount to £40,000,000, and would entail a rate of 1s. 6d., instead of 8d. in the pound. Unquestionably, an important element in bringing about a better condition of water was generally admitted to be by insisting on a constant supply. The difficulty of getting a constant supply did not lie with the Companies, but with the public. The public should have means of storing water. The cost of that would be about £3 a-house. He 952 was told that for a small house the cost would be about £1. If, as was the case, the East London Company had given a constant supply to the extent of one-half of the whole of the houses to which they supplied water, it did not follow that, by introducing compulsory arrangements for insuring constant supply throughout the Metropolis, any hardship would be occasioned. By something like an amalgamation of all the Companies, and by requiring that the future profits of the future capital should not be for the benefit of the shareholders, but for the ratepayers, a just and fair arrangement might be made which would give general satisfaction. Having said so much, he would not detain the House any longer, though he could not conclude without saying that the mass of facts elicited by the exhaustive examinations of this subject, and the authority that they wore based on, showed conclusively that the deficiencies in quality, where found to exist, were not due to the sources of supply, but to the imperfect manner that some of the Companies adopted, using the water without proper storage, and with imperfect filtering processes.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he had listened with great pleasure to the statement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which contrasted most favourably with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The statement made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department with regard to shares was very important. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had most carefully considered this subject, and he was of opinion that there was no necessity for any of the schemes for bringing water from distant places, such as the Welsh lakes, to London. The supply from the Thames was ample, and, when properly filtered, that water was good. It was not, however, so much the question of supply, as that of its distribution, with which they had to deal, so as to secure a constant service. It was clear that they could not have that carried out, unless the subject was left in the hands of some local authority. He was fully aware of the great difficulties which stood in the way of handing over the water supply of London to the Metropolitan Board of Works; but he hoped the Government would be 953 able to adopt some mode of dealing with the question, such as the establishment of a Commission on which the Metropolitan Board and the Corporation of London would be fairly and adequately represented, which would work satisfactorily. He would, in conclusion, suggest to his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) that, after the statement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, he should not press Jus Motion to a Division.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he wished, on the part of his constituents, to express his cordial thanks to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for the manner in which he had taken up the question, and for the promise he had given. It was a question with which the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly familiar, and in which he took a deep interest, so that the public might rely upon it it would receive the fullest attention at his hands. There were two considerations involved in the matter; one was the distribution, and the other the source of supply. As to the distribution, he thought they were all agreed that it was absolutely essential that it should be in the hands of some public body. As to the source of supply, however, he did not agree with those who regarded the present source as satisfactory. He thought by no amount of purification could the Thames water be made into pure and wholesome drinking water. Polluted by the sewage of several large towns through which it flowed, it could not be freed from the taint.
§ MR. YOUNG
, on the other hand, thought the Thames might be considered a fair source of supply for the Metropolis, or a greater part of it. He admitted that a constant supply was a necessity of a good system; and he claimed, on the part of the Companies, that they had done all they could towards bringing it about. It did not always rest with the Water Companies to give or refuse a supply of water as they liked, and if the House were to pass a Bill compelling landlords to put up proper fittings in the houses of their tenants, those tenants might have a constant supply of water with little or no delay. He hoped that the Government, in dealing with the Companies, 954 would seriously take into consideration the amount of property which they had in their hands, and would not lose sight of the fact that when those Companies were called into existence, an increased supply of water was very much needed, that the Companies bad supplied the want when no one else would do so, and that they had carried out their undertaking in a very liberal spirit, and were ready to continue so doing.
§ MR. ALDERMAN W. M'ARTHUR
said, as one of the Representatives of a large Metropolitan borough, he wished to thank his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) for the admirable way in which he had brought forward that question. The speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department would be received with great satisfaction throughout the whole of the Metropolis. He agreed that there were difficulties, and great difficulties, in the way of dealing with the question; but he did not believe but that they could be overcome in a way which, while it would secure fair play and justice to the Water Companies, would, at the same time, give the inhabitants of the Metropolis a constant supply of pure water.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which he considered was entirely satisfactory, as pledging the right hon. Gentleman to come to some decision before next Session, he should beg leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.