HC Deb 17 February 1880 vol 250 cc784-90

Order for Second Reading read.


Sir, I beg leave to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which provides for the means of ascertaining the pressure of gas supplied over any particular district, by self-registering pressure gauges keeping a constant register at the testing stations, and also by testings of the pressure at a certain number of street lamps, such number to be determined by the Gas Referees; also to provide for the present difficulty of ascertaining from what manufacturing station the gas is supplied to any particular place, and to render it possible by these means to assess the penalties, which under existing circumstances cannot be done, the gas from many manufacturing stations being mixed before it reaches the district where it is to be consumed. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Truro (Sir James M 'Gar el-Hogg), who represents the Metropolitan Board of Works, has agreed, on behalf of that Board, to withdraw opposition to this Bill on the arrangement being made that that Board should not be included in the operations of the 21st clause.

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


in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, he was aware that the course which he was asking the House to take—namely, to reject the Bill upon the Second Reading—was a somewhat unusual one. At the same time, where a Bill was exceptional in its character, or where its principles or provisions ran counter to the general practice of the House, the House had sanctioned such a course. He thought he should have no difficulty in showing the House that the Bill now before them was one of that nature. The measure, as had already been stated by the hon. Alderman who represented the City of London, was promoted by the Corporation of the City, and its object was to test the illuminating power, the quality, the purity, and the pressure of the gas supplied within the City by the Companies named in the Bill. All these matters were dealt with in the Acts of Parliament constituting the Companies affected by the Bill, and some of those Acts were passed so recently as the years 1875 and 1876. Indeed, the Corporation themselves, in the Petition which they presented against the Bill brought in last year by the Gaslight and Coke Company, which included, among others, provisions similar to those which they now asked for under this Bill, stated— That when the Bill of 1876 was before Parliament it underwent a most careful consideration, and was only passed because it was con. sidered that its provisions were of a salutary nature, and that they would greatly tend to improve the gas supplied in London. Language of that nature was used by the Corporation no longer ago than last year. They now brought in a Bill to alter and amend these regulations. But that was not all. The Bill which was promoted by the Corporation of the City of London only dealt with a large area of the Metropolis outside the jurisdiction of the Corporation. He had heard the hon. Alderman the Member for the City of London state that the Metropolitan Board of Works were now with the Corporation in promoting this measure. This was only a very recent conversion, and perhaps his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Truro (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) would explain to the House how it was that the Metropolitan Board of "Works had been induced to change their mind; for as late as the 6th of the present month the Board passed a resolution to petition against the Bill. It might be that the Metropolitan Board of Works would be very glad to secure the passing of the Bill if they could get all it proposed to do done for them, without having to call upon the ratepayers to provide any of the expense, the whole of the cost falling upon their rich neighbours in the City, who had plenty of funds at their disposal. It might probably turn out that some such engagement had been entered into between the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works which had led to the opposition of the Board being withdrawn. He might add, further, that the Bill in its present shape dealt with three Companies, two of which supplied gas entirely outside the City limits. The third—the Gaslight and. Coke Company—was the only Company which supplied gas within the City; and it supplied an area more than five times as great as that of the City itself. Therefore, even in regard to that Company, the controlling power of the City was very small if it were confined to the City area. That, however, was not the only area which the Bill sought to deal with; and, under all the circumstances, perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Truro would explain how it was that the Metropolitan Board of Works had determined to abandon their opposition to this part of the Bill. There was only one other objection, but it was a somewhat strong one, which he desired to urge against the Bill. In all former arrangements for testing the purity and illuminating power of the gas, the penalties which had been placed upon the Gas Companies, had been placed upon them only, so to speak, by consent; that was, only when the Companies went to Parliament and asked for increased capital, or for an extension of powers. In that case, Parliament had imposed upon them from time to time fresh restrictions. It was, however, quite a new way of dealing with the matter for the Corporation of London suddenly, without any communication with the Gas Companies, to bring in a Bill imposing heavy penalties upon them, and placing them under galling restrictions which would hamper their arrangements and put them to serious trouble and expense. The Gas Companies had only one object in view, and that was to serve the public. They had no objection to such wholesome restric- tions as Parliament might see fit to place upon them, and it was perfectly possible for the Corporation and the Board of Works to have arranged with the Companies such terms as might be satisfactory to the public, the Board of Trade standing by to see that the terms were fair and reasonable. If that course had been taken this opposition would not have been necessary; but considering the way in which the Bill had been introduced, and that it was an entire innovation upon the usual practice of Parliament, he felt he had no other course than to move that it be read a second time upon 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."—(Colonel Makins.)

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


Mr. Speaker, Sir, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) has rather challenged me to make some observations to the House with regard to this Bill. If he had not challenged me, I should still have felt it my duty, as Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and representing, therefore, many millions of the ratepayers of the Metropolis, to offer some observations on the Bill. I should certainly say, on behalf of my Colleagues and the ratepayers, we should have felt it to be our duty strongly to oppose the Bill on the Second Reading, but for the assurance of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton), who has told us that the Metropolitan Board of Works will be entirely cut out from the 21st clause. I must explain to the House that by that clause the cost of this Bill might have been thrown partially upon the City and partially upon the outside ratepayers under the Metropolitan Board of Works, instead of the City paying for it entirely themselves; and I may add that the Metropolitan Board of Works, not being the promoters, and having no control whatever over the expenditure of this, did decidedly object to have to pay money over the expenditure of which they had no control. My friends in the City and ourselves had two or three meetings on the subject, and we were anxious to promote legislation; but the City wanted to go further than the Board of Works. That Board only wanted to amend existing legislation. There are difficulties of a certain character with which the House will not be familiar. Testing-houses are supplied in various places with regard to the manufacture of gas, and it is found impossible to carry out the existing law when any defect is found in the supply. We have to go before a magistrate, where we are asked where the gas, of which we complain, is manufactured, and we are unable to say, and the Metropolitan Board would be very glad if we had an amendment of the law which would enable us to answer such a question. Their anxiety was, however, to have a friendly amendment of the law, and not to have a long and expensive litigation with the Gas Companies; and, therefore, they were not able to go as far as our friends in the City. But my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London having given the assurance on behalf of the City Remembrancer, who is the authorized officer of the City, that he will withdraw the Metropolitan Board of Works from this clause, I, on behalf of that Board, assured my hon. Friend that I would not oppose the Second Reading; but I reserved to myself and my Colleagues the full power to go the Committee and endeavour to amend the Bill, because I must tell the hon. Alderman that there are things in that Bill which we, as a Board, cannot in any way consent to. At the same time, I am one of those who think when Bills are brought in here they ought to have a fair hearing on the Second Reading, unless they contain some very vicious principles which we cannot recognize. Therefore, on behalf of my Colleagues, I shall not oppose the Second Reading; but I shall reserve to myself full power to deal with the matter in the way I have mentioned. But my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London went a little too far, because I cannot say that we are with him. We are only partially with him in our desire to remedy an acknowledged grievance, but not in going further than we think it is desirable to go at present.


as a householder of London, wished to express a hope that the House would not take the unusual course of throwing out the Bill upon the Second Reading, and before it had been subjected to the examination of a Select Committee. The people of London submitted to heavy tyrannies, and the heaviest tyranny of all was that of the Gas Companies. Speaking from practical experience, he believed that the Gas Companies failed to secure either good gas or economy. Indeed, it seemed to him that there was no place in the whole civilized world where the gas supply was as bad as that of London. In other parts of the world, in the provincial towns of Scotland, and in most parts of the Kingdom, they had a gas supply which, if it was dear, was also good; but here in London it was not only dear, but dirty. It filled their houses to a most unreasonable degree with dirt and filth; it ruined their eyes when they attempted to make use of it; it blackened the ceilings and walls, destroyed the paint, and rendered their houses almost uninhabitable. He knew the excuse of the Gas Companies was that the law kept down the price of the article. No doubt, the law did regulate the price of gas; but if it fixed a maximum price for gas the Gas Companies contrived to take it out in badness, which badness was certainly much more marked than the cheapness of the commodity. Having had some experience in the matter, it appeared to him that the gas in London, far from being cheaper than the good gas supplied to Edinburgh and other places, was in reality a great deal dearer, as the gas bill could testify. It so happened that in his own house in Scotland he had gas supplied under special circumstances from a long distance at a rate three times the rate of the London gas. Yet, at that high rate, his bills were not half as great as they were with the bad gas supplied in London. He was sure there was something radically wrong in the matter; and he was prepared to support any measure which would secure the testing of the gas supply, and afford some prospect of ascertaining wherein the badness consisted.


agreed with the hon. Members who had spoken that it was always undesirable to reject Bills of this kind on the Second Reading unless a very strong case were made out. In this case, he thought no such case had been established; and he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Colonel Makins) would not press his opposition to the Bill. It related to matter which the Board of Trade had not had now for the first time in hand. In point of fact, they had it in hand at the present moment, and were communicating with the various Gas Companies, with the Corporation of the City of London, and with the Metropolitan Board of Works. More than that, they had sent this Bill to the Gas Referees, from whom they expected shortly to receive a report. He was quite willing to go as far as the hon. Member for Essex in deprecating arbitrary interference with, and harassing restrictions upon, the Gas Companies; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that, in this instance, a case for legislation had been made out. What the Board of Trade desired was that the various parties should be brought together with a view of ascertaining if it were not possible to bring them into harmony. Any Bill that was calculated to carry out such an object the Board of Trade would do their best to promote; but it must be clearly understood that the Board of Trade would have nothing to do with an opposed Bill upon this subject. Taking all the matters into consideration, he thought the House would agree with him that the best course to adopt in the interests of the public would be to road the present Bill a second time, and defer the next stage until the Board of Trade could have an opportunity of conferring with the parties.


said, that after the remarks which had been made by the hon. Members who had just addressed the House he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing. He had only objected to the measure on the ground which he had already explained, and he knew that it was not quite in accordance with the general practice of the House that Bills of this nature should be dealt with on the Second Reading. He was afraid that he would not be in Order if he were to notice the remarks which had fallen from other hon. Members; but perhaps he might be allowed to say that the Companies had never made any such excuse as that which had been imputed to them. They had never complained of the maximum price which Parliament had placed upon the gas supplied.

Amendment, by leave,withdrawn.

Main Question put, andagreed to.

Bill read a second time, andcommitted.

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