HC Deb 03 June 1880 vol 252 cc1163-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire and report as to the expediency of acquiring on behalf of the Inhabitants of London the undertakings of the existing Metropolitan Water Companies; and also to examine and report whether certain agreements, or any of them, already entered into provisionally for the purchase of these Companies would furnish a satisfactory basis for such an acquisition; and, further, to inquire and report as to the nature and extent of the powers of the "Water Companies to levy Water Rates and Rents, and how far it may be desirable to modify the same."—(Secretary Sir William Harcourt.)


said, he was very glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had come to the conclusion that the appointment of a Select Committee was not always for the purpose of shelving a question. He was also very glad to find that he was of opinion that, although various Committees and Commissions had sat upon this subject, yet there was still room for further inquiry into these questions. There were one or two other subjects upon which he was also pleased to see that the right hon. Gentleman had come to a conclusion. The first point he had apparently decided was that this matter was one of considerable difficulty, and that there were a great number of points which required the most careful consideration, and that this was not a matter which could be dealt with in a hasty manner, but that it required great care and caution, more especially considering the number of Water Companies supplying the Metropolis with water, and also that there was no central body in the Metropolis to acquire their rights and supply water. It gave him pleasure also to notice that the right hon. Gentleman had not the smallest intention to treat this matter as a mere Party question. Throughout all the negotiations that had taken place, and in everything that he had stated, he had invariably endeavoured to divest the question of all Party character. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary was the very first person consulted as to the proposed Commission by the late Government, thus showing that, so far as the late Government was concerned, there was no Party bias in the matter. He could assure him that, at the present moment, his hon. Friends on that side of the House would be perfectly willing to lend their endeavours to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion for the benefit of this great Metropolis. He observed that the right hon. Gentleman took an opportunity the other day of making a somewhat elaborate statement upon this matter. He wished that statement had been made upon a question put on going into Committee of Supply, because then there would have been an opportunity of making some observations concerning it. Upon that statement he desired to make one or two remarks. The right hon. Gentleman very properly congratulated himself and the House upon the fact that he had secured the co-operation of the Corporation of the City of London, and also of the Metropolitan Board of Works. But he seemed to think that that was the first time upon which their co-operation had been secured with regard to this measure. In justice not only to himself, but also to the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works, he could inform him that that was not the case. They were the first persons with whom he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) put himself in communication, and they promised him the most ready co-operation. He should be wrong if he did not at the present moment state that he had, during the time that He held Office, obtained both from the City of London and from the Metropolitan Board of Works the greatest possible assistance in bring this matter forward. He always found his hon. and gallant Friend who presided over the deliberations of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) ever ready to give him all assistance, and the Corporation had been no wit behindhand in every matter for the benefit of the Metropolis. He wished to guard himself against allowing it to be supposed that it was at all a new thing for the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works to be consulted. There were two classes of persons who, it seemed to him, were conspicuous by their absence, from the statement made by the Secretary of State. To one of those classes he was rather surprised to see that the right hon. Gentleman had made no reference. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly aware that the number of persons living in the district of the Metropolitan water area was large in comparison with the number living in the district under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was surprised at the absence of any reference to the consumers of water outside the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was also surprised at what appeared to be rather a matter of satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that he had had no communication with the Water Companies. Again, the right hon. Gentleman had said that there were two questions of a novel kind—one, whether the existing supply of water was the best, or whether it was better to obtain a supply at a cheaper rate. He (Sir If. Assheton Cross) thought that that alternative was known to everybody, and it had certainly received considerable attention on his part. The right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten for a moment the deliberations of the Commission which sat upon that question, and reported in 1869. He must also have forgotten the Report of the Committee on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and also the action of the Metropolitan Board itself, which, having had the experience of all those Commissions, had come to the conclusion that it was to the interest of the Metropolis that there should be a purchase made of the existing Water Companies. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was aware that, although it was not impossible to provide a wholly fresh supply, yet there were very many difficulties in the way of this being done; and he did not think that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman would lead persons very readily to embark in a Company which had that object in view. He thought it was hardly fair that the ratepayers and water consumers should have, in addition to the cost of the present water supply, another scheme at, perhaps, the expense of £20,000,000 for bringing water from elsewhere. At all events, it would not cheapen the supply of water. Again, there would be some practical difficulties in the way, such as that of laying the mains about the streets. He rather gathered from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that this also was a new subject, and that he deserved credit for stating the point, although it would seem that anyone who had to consider the question of water supply at all must necessarily, at the very outset, have had this point presented him. He wished to make a few remarks with regard to the subjects which would come before the Committee. He presumed that the Select Committee would consider whether it was expedient to get some fresh supply, and he agreed that it was not expedient to give the inquiry too large a scope, or to hang up this important question too long, because the longer the Companies were allowed to remain in their present position the more would the value of their property increase—and it was at that time increasing at the rate of something like £1,000,000 a-year—and for that reason the Companies were laying out considerable sums of money, which would enable them to give a supply at a small additional cost to them to a large number of houses rising up yearly in their districts. Last year he believed that 60 miles of new streets were added to the Metropolis, and there was no doubt that the income of these Companies would largely increase in proportion. He thought it should be clearly understood, therefore, whether the Committee were merely to go in a perfunctory manner through all the materials which had been already collected with reference to the question whether water could be obtained from other sources than the present supplies. An inquiry of that kind would be both a very long and a very expensive one. He could not see, therefore, what the right hon. Gentleman could mean by saying that it was not expedient to give the inquiry too large a scope, when he said, also, that the question of supply was one which must be considered. He would have thought that the matter was one about which the Government might have satisfied themselves without the appointment of a Committee. He then came to the second part of the Motion, which was that the Committee should examine and report whether certain agreements, or any of them, already entered into provisionally for the purchase of these Companies, would furnish a satisfactory basis for such an acquisition. If it was expedient to purchase, there were only two ways in which they could do so; they must either purchase by agreement, or by compulsion subject to arbitration. If they purchased by agreement there must be two parties to that agreement, and if they purchased by compulsion they would be placed in the hands of the arbitrator. It was, therefore, very difficult to see into what the Committee was to inquire, so far as the value of the Companies was concerned, because if they bought by agreement it would be no use to say the value of this Company is so much, and, as he had already pointed out, if they purchased by compulsion, they could not be compelled to sell at a particular price, and the matter would then go to arbitration. Purchase by agreement was the sole principle of the Bill brought in by the late Government—that was to say, it was the principle of purchasing by agreement in the first instance if satisfactory terms could be arranged between the Me- tropolis and the Companies. He quite agreed that the Government were in a somewhat awkward position in taking up this matter, because they did not like taking upon themselves to buy for the water consumers when the ratepayers were not parties to the bargain; and if the late Government had brought in a Bill which attempted to do this, and had endeavoured to force it through the House, then, he said, they would have been open to some of the remarks which had been unjustly used concerning them. But that was not the course of the late Government at all; they had to see at how low a price they could get the Companies to sell, in order to take the matter into the Committee Room in. the best way for the interests of the consumers of water, the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the City of London. Those agreements had been entered into on the understanding that they were subject to the most rigid scrutiny by the Committee, and that if the Committee thought they were too high the House would, no doubt, reject them, although, on the other hand, and that only if the Committee believed them to be such terms as were proper, would they have asked the House to pass a Bill to deal with them. Again, when the Companies came to explain their case before the Committee, and when the Metropolitan water consumers had explained their case, had the Committee thought that smaller terms should be taken, this could have been arranged with the consent of all parties by agreement; and it was part of his agreement that the Bill was not to be withdrawn upon that ground, unless at the request, not of one, but of the majority, of the Companies concerned in the purchase. He could not but regret that the Companies and the consumers of water had not had an opportunity of talking this matter over before the Committee of the House. It was no easy matter to bring the Companies before the House at all, and it was with the greatest possible difficulty that they had been approached. He only made these remarks for the purpose of showing that the Committee would enter upon their inquiry with this disadvantage—that they would not have the Companies coming before them willingly—that was to say, with their agreements and ready to prove and enter into their case.


said, he understood that the agreements were binding upon the Companies in the case of the Government being willing to introduce a Bill to carry them into effect.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had not quite understand his meaning. The agreement was that a Bill should be brought in to give the agreements with the Companies effect, and that the Bill should be referred to the Committee. He sincerely trusted that the Companies would take that view of the matter, and come before the Committee, in which case he should be quite content; but they were putting the Committee to this disadvantage—that, whereas if a Bill had been brought in affirming the principle of purchase of the Companies, and not in the least binding the House, or anybody else, with reference to the price to be charged, if that Bill had been read a second time, he had not the slightest doubt that the Companies would have appeared before the Committee, and that some satisfactory agreement would ultimately have been arrived at. He thought there would be great risk of difficulty arising in coming to a conclusion as to the value of the agreements, if the Companies did not take the same view as the Government and appear before the Committee. Indeed, he was not at all clear that if the Companies chose they might not say they would have nothing more to do with the subject. The last part of the Reference was that the Committee should further inquire and report as to the nature and extent of the powers of the Water Companies to levy water rates and rents, and how far it might be desirable to modify the same. He had been very glad to hear from reports in the newspapers, which he hoped were correct, that the right hon. Gentleman had given an answer upon this subject in almost the same terms as those which he had himself given last Session. Notwithstanding that when he had given that answer it had been cavilled at by a great number of persons both in and out of the House, it was a matter of satisfaction to him that the right hon. Gentleman, after looking into the point, had arrived at the same conclusion as himself—namely, that they must use great caution in invading the rights conferred by Acts of Parliament. He was not saying that the Acts con- ferred upon the Companies were Acts which they ought not to have had; but Parliament, in its wisdom at certain times, had granted to many Companies rather extraordinary powers. It was not a question whether Parliament would grant those powers now; they had to be dealt with as they existed at the present time. Power had been given to the Water Companies to charge upon the annual value of property; and the right hon. Gentleman had said it was a mistake to think that an alteration of assessment altered the legal right, and that it was also a mistake to think that Mr. Goschen's Act altered that matter of law. The question was, what was the annual value of a house on which they charge? and that was a question to be decided by law before Justices appointed for that purpose. Again, the right hon. Gentleman went onto say, that although he was anxious to prevent any injustice being done, still he did not know anything more unsafe than to make people suppose that the securities given to persons in property by Act of Parliament were not safe, and were likely to be invaded. That was a statement which he would have expected from such an accomplished lawyer as the right hon. Gentleman, and one which it had given him great pleasure to read. He hoped it would be a long time before the House invaded the rights of any person in the State. Having pointed out what were some of the difficulties in the way of the Committee, he could only repeat that he sincerely hoped the object they had in view might be accomplished, and he believed that the wisest course would be that the Companies should be purchased, and it was to be hoped that they would appear before the Committee and argue out the question, which he trusted would be settled buring the present Session of Parliament. On his part, he could promise the right hon. Gentleman every assistance in his power; but as to the first part of the Reference, he thought it would be wise to limit it in some shape, because, in his opinion, if the Committee were to enter upon the large and interesting question involved, their Report was not likely to be received for a very long time. There was one part of the question which had not been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the constitution of the trust that would have to administer this property. The right hon. Gentleman had so entirely absolved himself from all responsibility that he appeared to desire to have no responsibility at all in the matter. It was rather astonishing that reference to this vital point should not have been made. He agreed that in the Bill laid before the House by the late Government there was a somewhat elaborate Water Commission appointed; but it also contained one principle which was enunciated, as he believed, for the first time in the House, and which he hoped would always be adhered to in the formation of any body for the purpose of carrying into execution an Act dealing with the supply of water for the Metropolis, and that was that there should be direct representation of the Metropolis. In conclusion, he again assured his right hon. Friend of every possible assistance on his part in his endeavours to arrive at a right conclusion.


said, that he thought the course pursued by the Government was very instructive. The House would remember that there was nothing upon which the speakers from Liberal platforms were so eloquent, which created in the mind of Liberal orators so much indignation, and gave rise to more scathing language than the proposal of the late Government to deal with the water supply of the Metropolis. It had been brought forward upon every possible occasion as a charge against them, and had been referred to as the cause of the Dissolution of the last Parliament. After all those denunciations by the responsible Leaders of the Opposition, those who were interested in the Metropolis water supply naturally expected that the first thing the Liberal Government would do when they came into power would be to introduce some comprehensive scheme to deal with the whole question in a manner entirely different from that proposed by the late Government. It was supposed that when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen denounced the scheme of the late Government they had formed their own opinion as to the proper means to be adopted. But what had been the proceeding of the present Government since they came into power? The Home Secretary appeared by no means to have made up his mind as to the right course to be pursued, and seemed to be fishing round about for suggestions as to the proper means to be used in dealing with the question. Now, after all these denunciations and devices; after all the time they had had for consideration, the new Government had brought forward a proposal identical with that of the last Government, and for which the latter had been so roundly denounced. The proposal of the late Home Secretary was that these agreements should be referred to a Select Committee. That was precisely the same which the right hon. Gentleman opposite now made. He (Mr. Ritchie) did not object to that mode of proceeding, because it was probably the best way that could be found of dealing with the agreements; but he could not help feeling that the Reference was being overlaid with other questions which could have no other effect than to hang up this question for an indefinite period. Had the right hon. Gentleman confined the Reference to the investigation of the agreements which had been entered into he thought there was every probability that a very speedy conclusion would have been arrived at. But the right hon. Gentleman proposed to ask the Committee also to go into the enormous question of whether or not it would not be better policy to bring an altogether fresh supply of water into London. This would necessarily entail a vast investigation, which would extend over a long period of time, and the result would be that nothing would be done that Session nor probably the next. The Reference to the Committee should have been limited to the consideration of the agreements; and if it had been seen that the terms were too high, and that there was no possibility of getting them modified, the question might then have arisen whether something might not be done to get a supply of water elsewhere. But instead of that the Home Secretary had overweighted the Reference, and the matter would be hung up for an extended period in consequence. Now, as he represented a Metropolitan constituency which had been expecting for years past the Government to take some steps in this matter, he protested against any course being adopted which would any further delay the settlement of that important question. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to making some Amendment in the terms of the Reference, so that the question—whether or not these agree- ments upon which they had entered were in themselves proper agreements, or could be modified—should stand alone without being overladen with other parts of the question. The longer the matter was hung up the more the Metropolis would have to pay. He understood that the Water Companies might at any moment put up their rates, inasmuch as they had not to wait for the valuation of the Metropolitan property; that, however, took place next year, and the Companies would only be acting strictly within their rights if they raised their rates next year when the valuation was to be made. For all these reasons he urged upon the Government to make this Reference as simple as possible, so as to see whether the Water Companies were likely to sell upon reasonable terms; and then, if it were found that no reasonable bargain could be made with them, as he had said before, there would be time to investigate the question whether some steps could be taken to provide the Metropolis with some other supply of water if the Companies would not listen to reason.


said, that the terms of Reference seemed to him to open the door for a very wide inquiry. The Select Committee was to inquire and report as to the expediency of acquiring on behalf of the Metropolis of London the undertakings of the existing Water Companies within the Metropolitan area, and also To examine and report whether certain agreements, or any of them, already entered into provisionally for the purchase of these Companies would furnish a satisfactory basis for such an acquisition; and, further, the Committee was empowered to Inquire and report as to the nature and extent of the powers of the Water Companies to levy Water Rates and Rents, and how far it may be desirable to modify the same. He should have thought that it would have been a sufficient question for the Committee to inquire as to whether the Water Companies were prepared to accept the terms that this House could offer them. But the terms of Reference seemed to leave it open to the Committee to institute a fresh inquiry into the character and suitability of the existing sources of water supply. That was a question that had been inquired into by a Royal Commission in 1869. The Report of that Commission was very satisfactory, and all the facts were now before the present Committee, upon which they could come to a satisfactory conclusion. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, whether it would not be possible to narrow the inquiry by referring the Report of the Commission of 1869 to the Select Committee simply to report as to the desirability of acquiring the undertakings of the Water Companies on the basis of the Report of the Royal Commission? With respect to the question as to the existing powers of the Water Companies, it would be in the recollection of the House that he put a question on the matter to his right hon. Friend the other day. For his part, he fully admitted that there were some questions that might be asked with propriety by independent Members of responsible Ministers, although it might be for them to consider whether it was to the public interest that they should answer them. His object in putting this question, which was on a matter concerning the interests of the whole community, was to make it clear to the Water Companies that Parliament would look with disfavour upon any attempt to raise their rents pending the result of these investigations.


said, that he had understood the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to be extremely anxious to come to terms speedily with the Water Companies. It was clear, however, that by the terms of this Reference the Committee could not help considering any plan that might be brought before them for obtaining a fresh supply of water, either from the lakes or elsewhere, and that they must take evidence on that subject. He thought it was undesirable, both in the interests of the Companies and of the public, that such an inquiry should take place. The knew that the expense of a Royal Commission was something enormous; and if this Committee was going into the same inquiry as came before the Royal Commission, over which the Duke of Richmond presided, it would lead to very great expense, while, at the same time, the question had been very satisfactorily settled by the Report of that Royal Commission. If they were to set up all these questions again very great expense would be thrown, not only upon the Water Companies, but on the ratepayers. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would alter the terms of the Reference, so as to narrow it to the question whether the terms made with the Water Companies, with or without any alterations, should be carried through, and, if so, to report the matter to the House. In that way the House would have materials before it to judge of the terms to be made with the Water Companies. He trusted that the inquiry would be made in a fair and open spirit; but if the Committee inquired into the general question of the water supply of London its labours would not come to an end this or even next year. He could assure his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the Water Companies were now placed in a very indefinite and difficult position, as, owing to the nature of the existing agreements, they were unable to enter into contracts for new works, however necessary such contracts might be for the interests of the Companies. He fully agreed, therefore, with the right hon. Gentleman as to the necessity of despatch in this matter. He was glad that he had come to the determination to refer these agreements to a Committee; but he would suggest that there should be simply a Reference to the Committee to consider what terms, if any, could be made with the existing Companies.


said, he was not surprised that his hon. Friends who represented the Water Companies should wish to have the question considered on the assumption that there was no other method to be pursued than that of taking over the undertakings of the existing Water Companies. It was only natural that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets should take that view.


said, that he had never said anything of the kind. What he did say was that the first portion of the inquiry should be confined to the consideration of whether the undertakings of the present Water Companies could be bought at a reasonable price, and that then the other questions could be gone into.


said that he could take no responsibility in this matter unless he was allowed to open the whole question as to whether the supply of water given by the Companies was or was not a supply worth having. If the House were of opinion that the question was not open, then he would have nothing to do with the matter. The City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works had made it a condition of their co-operation that that point should be considered; if the Committee were of opinion that the acquisition of the undertakings of the Water Companies was not worth while, then it would not be necessary for them to consider the terms of purchase. If that matter were excluded from the first part of the inquiry, then it would be useless. He would be no party to the inquiry if his hands were tied up in the matter. He considered the existence of the alternative scheme to be the only means of dealing with the Companies; and those who desired to exclude that consideration from the Committee would absolutely prevent the inhabitants of London from ever having the chance of obtaining a reasonable and proper supply of water.


said, that what he had stated was that, in his opinion, the first thing should be to ascertain the terms to be made with the existing Companies, and then to investigate the question of whether it would be better to bring water into London from some other source.


said, he must have the question open whether it was worth purchasing these undertakings. The Corporation of London had expressly stipulated that it should be at liberty to consider whether the undertakings were worth buying or not at any price. He must, therefore, ask the House to leave the Reference as it was, or he should wash his hands of the whole concern. That was also the condition which the Metropolitan Board had made the basis of their co-operation. The information contained in a Report already published might lead the Committee to come to a sound conclusion; and they might report, without making further inquiries, on the basis of the Report of 1869. But still the matter must be open to them. The first question was to determine whether the present supply of water to London from the Thames was worth buying at all. Then, if it were decided that it was worth buying at a reasonable price, the inquiry would proceed as to whether the price was reasonable or not. In his opinion, that was the best course that could be taken. Whether or not Lon- don should continue to be supplied with water from the Thames was the first question to be considered. Whether for £'20,000,000 they could obtain a better and more abundant supply of water for themselves, or whether it would be worth while to pay £30,000,000 for an inferior water supply. If they spent £20,000,000 in getting a good supply of water it would be cheaper than buying a bad supply for £30,000,000.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman could get a better supply of water for London than it at present enjoyed for £20,000,000 he would confer a very great benefit upon the Metropolis. Speaking as one of the Representatives of the Metropolis, he must say that very great responsibility rested upon those who had to deal with this question. The right hon. Gentleman found these agreements, which were intended to be the basis of the Act of Parliament and the subject of negotiations, of evidence and discussions before a Committee of the House of Commons; and the right hon. Gentleman would incur a very grave responsibility indeed if the abandonment of the Bill or the failure of the negotiations resulted in a payment by the Metropolis of a larger sum for the water supply of London than the amount expressed in the Bill. The question was a very serious and a very difficult one, and it could not be long delayed, and upon the mode in which it would be treated very great and serious results would depend. It appeared to him that the Committee ought to enter into a discussion of these questions with their bauds perfectly free, and with full opportunity to consider the whole matter. No reasonable man would exclude them from considering whether the terms of the Water Companies were unreasonable, or whether the water was good, and they must consider in what way the Metropolis was to be furnished with water in the future. But if it was proposed to invite the Committee to enter into the question ah initio, and to ignore the inquiries which had already been made, the subject would occupy their attention for some years. It was the duty of the Metropolitan Water Companies to make provision for a supply of water for the whole of the Metropolis under certain Acts of Parliament. They must come to Parliament year after year for further power and additional capital for that purpose, and he believed there were Bills now pending with that object. Those Bills involved a further charge upon the Metropolis, and delay in dealing with this question would cause very large unnecessary expenditure. There was no help for it, because, under Acts of Parliament with which these Water Companies must comply, they were compelled to come to Parliament. Speaking as a Metropolitan Member, he thought the Government was responsible for seeing this question settled with the least possible delay, and in the most effective manner. It would certainly not be so settled by withdrawing from the Committee the power to say that the present water supply was bad, for they ought to have the power of saying that not only the terms were ridiculously high, but that they could get a better supply elsewhere. But then they came to the question of the withdrawal by Parliament of powers deliberately given to public Companies on the faith of which money had been invested, and any undue interference with their rights would press very hardly upon them. He would conclude with one remark—that he trusted arbitration would not be resorted to. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was very well aware that arbitration was a very costly mode of arriving at value. There must be many instances within the right hon. Gentleman's recollection in which much larger amounts were given under arbitration than ought to have been paid, and he dreaded the application of that principle to the acquisition of the rights of the Water Companies. If an Act of Parliament were passed by which the matter were sent to arbitration, the result would be that the ratepayers of the Metropolis would suffer very heavily. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) had had some little experience of arbitration in past years, and he must say that most of those arbitrations had gone enormously against the consumer. He earnestly hoped that his right hon. Friend would see that delay in this matter was highly injurious, and that he would feel that the Metropolis was looking to him to prevent further expense being thrown upon the rates in consequence.


said, that he should like to say one or two words with respect to the question of the London water supply. This was made a burning question at the last election, and he believed that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that in 1874 Her Majesty's Government came in in beer, and in 1880 went out in water. At all events, those were the remarks that he saw attributed to the right hon. Gentleman in the newspaper. He thought that Her Majesty's Government would eventually be responsible for any measure upon this subject. At the same time he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the terms of Reference would include the question of a fresh source of water supply for London. Suppose it were considered inexpedient to acquire the undertakings of the Water Companies, would the Committee be then precluded from going into the question of a fresh supply for London? There was no doubt that this was a very important question; and, reading the first part of the terms of Reference, he could not see how the Committee was to go into the question of a fresh source of supply. He wished also to press upon the Government that they ought to place no one upon this Committee who held any shares in the Water Companies of London. Very important questions indeed were raised, and it was essential to the ratepayers of the Metropolis that they should be calmly and impartially dealt with.


said, that the question raised by the hon. Member for Guildford was a very important one. The Committee last year upon East Indian Railways raised a very similar question to that of the purchase of the undertakings of the Water Companies. In appointing that Committee he believed that Mr. Speaker decided, as contrary to the Rule of the House, that anyone should be upon that Committee who had a pecuniary interest in the railway. As this was a question of the possible purchase of the undertakings of these Companies, he supposed that this Rule would hold good, and that it would be impossible for anyone who was either directly or indirectly interested in the Companies to sit upon the Committee. He believed that the ruling went to this extent—that an hon. Member was disqualified for serving on the East Indian Railway Committee who was interested only as a trustee.


said, that no doubt a general principle existed that no Member having a direct pecuniary interest could serve on a Committee on a Private Bill. He could not answer this question at once without knowing the nature of the interest enjoyed.


said, that, so far as hon. Members on that side of the House were concerned, that question had been decided over and over again. No person on that side of the House who had any pecuniary interest in the subject-matter of inquiries was ever appointed to Committees.

Question put, and agreed to.

Select Committee appointed," to inquire and report as to the expediency of acquiring on behalf of the Inhabitants of London the undertakings of the existing Metropolitan Water Companies; and also to examine and report whether certain agreements, or any of them, already entered into provisionally for the purchase of these Companies would furnish a satisfactory basis for such an acquisition; and further to inquire and report as to the nature and extent of the powers of the Water Companies to levy Water Kates and Rents, and how far it may be desirable to modify the same."—(Secretary Sir William Harcourt.) And, on Juno 7, Committee nominated as follows:—Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, Sir JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG, Mr. CHAMBERLAIN, Sir RICHARD CROSS, Mr. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE, Mr. BRAND, Mr. PEMBERTON, Mr. CAINE, Baron HENRY DE WORMS, Mr. FIRTH, Sir GABRIEL GOLDNEY, Lord GEORGE HAMILTON, Mr. THO-ROLD ROGERS, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. JOHN-HOLMS, and Mr. PARNELL:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum. And, on June 8, Mr. HUBBARD added.