§ Order for Second Reading read.
SIR JAMES M'GAKEL-HOGG
said, that as he was the first Member who had had the honour of moving the second reading of a Bill under the new Speaker, he hoped that it would not be out of place f, as an old Friend, and on the part of independent Members, he offered the right hon. Gentleman their hearty congratulations, and echoed the assurance given by the Front Benches that everyone would wish him health and strength for the duties of his high Office. With regard to this Bill, its objects were, in the first place, to make clearer and more defined the 144th section of the Metropolitan Local Management Act, which gave power to the Metropolitan Board of Works to incur certain expense for the good of the Metropolis. In 1878 the Metropolitan Board of Works had become aware of great complaints which were made con-corning the water supply of London, and had considered it their duty under that section, and also looking to the wants of the inhabitants of the Metropolis, to bring in two Bills, the first for the purpose of purchasing the Water Companies at a fair and proper price, and the second to give the inhabitants of the Metropolis a fresh and independent supply of pure spring water in every house. That had been the recommendation of the Committee on the subject, which had been presided over by Mr. Ayrton. These Bills were brought in, and he was fortunate enough to secure the second reading of the one for giving a fresh supply; but the opposition which he encountered to the Purchase Bill was so great that he was unable to overcome it, and the measures did not become law. When the expenses of promoting these Bills came before the Auditor, to the great surprise of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and, he ventured to think, to the surprise of most people, the Auditor said that he did not consider that an 34 endeavour to give a better and purer supply of water and to purchase the Water Companies came within the 144th section of the Act. There had been no appeal in the matter, and the consequence was that in the succeeding Session of Parliament an Indemnity Bill had to be brought in, which the House, always disposed to be considerate to a body which it believed was trying to do its duty to the Metropolis, passed. But its introduction had been a very unpleasant necessity. An impression seemed to have gone abroad that he gave certain pledges never to bring in a Bill of the kind again. He certainly did give a pledge that he would not again bring in a Bill that might make it necessary to ask the House for another indemnity; but he never said that he would not introduce a measure more clearly defining the powers of the 144th section of the Act. He was now asking the House to pass a Bill which would enable the Metropolitan Board to deal under that section with the whole water question of the Metropolis. They were endeavouring to do their duty, and perhaps something more. The 2nd clause of this Bill empowered the Metropolitan Board to assist any ratepayer who was striving to assert a great principle. He thought that where a great question of principle was involved, whether in the case of a Gas or Water Company which was charging more than it ought, the municipal authorities of the Metropolis ought to be able to step in and save an individual ratepayer from the great injustice of having to carry on a tight with a powerful Company from Court to Court, such as Mr. Dobbs, in a most patriotic way, had done. The House of Lords had decided that the Water Companies had been charging far too much, and it was desirable that a public body like the Metropolitan Board of Works should protect the interests of the ratepayers against the Companies. Whether the Metropolitan Board of Works was to live or die he knew not. If it lived, it would endeavour to carry out the provisions of this Bill, and if it died he trusted the new Body created would use them as well as the Board had used the powers hitherto entrusted to it. The Bill had not cost 1d., and he intended to use every effort to carry it. Notwithstanding the charges of extravagance which had been brought against 35 the Board, he maintained that their expenditure had been extremely economical and even penurious. All the improvements which they had effected, including the Thames Embankment and the better disposal of sewage, had only resulted in a rate of 6½d. in the pound, or less than when the Board was founded. True, the rateable value had increased; but he thought the public works which had been constructed showed that the Board had expended what it received economically and wisely, and that, in fact, it was almost "screwy" sometimes in order to save the rates. He hoped, therefore, the House would pass the second reading of the Bill by a large majority.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir James M'Garel-Hogg.)
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
hoped the House would consent to the second reading of the Bill. As a member of a large Metropolitan Vestry, he could say that the action of the Water Companies was one which gave the ratepayers very great annoyance. At this very moment one of the large Water Companies was circulating a paper by means of a house-to-house visitation in the West End calling upon the householders to state the quantity of water they consumed, the number of taps, &c. It was, in fact, a most inquisitorial inquiry in order that the Water Companies might take steps to increase the water rate over the present amount. It was true Mr. Dobbs had fought the question in a most patriotic way; but that was not sufficient. The power asked for by the Metropolitan Board of Works under this Bill was one which would be of very great service to the Vestries in London, as they had not money to fight those great Companies, whether Water, Gas, or Electric Light Companies. He thought the hon. Member had done great service to the whole of the London ratepayers by asking the House to read the Bill a second time.
§ MR. COOPE
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that he had to present a Petition against it from the Lambeth Waterworks Company, to the effect that the Bill was highly unjust and unfair to the Water Companies, and that it would be oppressive to the ratepayers. Consider 36 ing that the two former measures mentioned by the hon. Baronet (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) were promoted at a cost to the ratepayers of £16,000 or £17,000, it was a comfort now to learn that the present Bill would cost them nothing. As to the ultimate object of the Bill the House had been kept entirely in the dark; but he presumed, from experience of the past, that the intention afterwards was either to promote a Bill for purchasing the eight Water Companies by arbitration or agreement, or to provide a new supply from a new source of fresh water for the Metropolis. The two former attempts had egregiously failed. The existing Companies had ample powers for sinking deep wells into the chalk; some were already doing this; in fact, the impurity of the water was so infinitesimal that it was not worth while wasting time in discussing the matter. One objection raised by the Water Companies was that, as they contributed £120,000 a-year to the rates, it was unjust that any portion of that money should be used for attacking their own interests. The Companies were being harassed continually, and had to go to a considerable expense in repelling the attacks made upon them. The Companies were entitled to a maximum dividend of 10 per cent. and when they arrived at that maximum the water rates would be reduced. Therefore, by prolonging these attacks on the Companies, that happy period was indefinitely delayed. The Companies had already arranged with thousands of their tenants on the footing of the net annual value in lieu of the gross value, which would result in a certain amount of relief, say, to the extent of 10 per cent. At the same time, there was some excuse to be made for the Companies, who had charged on the annual value, as they were empowered by the Act, throughout the whole of the present century; and, moreover, they had charged upon the same principle as that on which the Government assessed Succession Duty and the Inhabited House Duty. But how would it effect the welfare of the Metropolis if the Corporation, the Metropolitan Board of Works, or the new Municipality which it was proposed to create, took over the supply of water? Looking at the charges of the different Municipalities throughout the country—Manchester, Blackburn, and Liverpool, 37 for instance—he found, in almost every case, that the Metropolis was better and more cheaply served by the private Companies. The latter varied in their charges from 3 to 5 per cent on the net annual value of the premises supplied. In many instances the charges authorized by Parliament were considerably higher, yet the Municipalities enjoying those privileges had frequently to meet a heavy loss, or, as in the case of Blackburn, to levy a rate in aid. As regards the supply of water to shipping, while Liverpool charged 5s. 10d, Glasgow 5s., and other towns from 6s. 8d. to 12s. per 1,000 gallons, the charge of the East London Waterworks was only 6d. The President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) could bear testimony to the promptitude with which the Water Companies had carried out his excellent suggestions. The Water Companies were now in admirable order, and the success or failure of the constant supply depended entirely upon the state of the fittings in a house. Unless they were in good order a frightful waste occurred. A Bill promoted by the Corporation of London proposed that the whole water supply of the Metropolis should be by meter, at the option of the tenant, at a charge of 6d. per 1,000 gallons. The only town of any size supplied on this principle was Berlin, and there the charge for water by meter was about three times as much as that proposed by the Corporation. It would seem from this that the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Corporation were to be rivals for popularity. They knew that the Water Companies had plenty of enemies, and they consequently stepped in and said—" We are the friends of the public." He had no hesitation in saying that London had now been made one of the healthiest cities in the world. The Companies had fairly carried out the requirements of the President of the Local Government Board; and although the water supply was not unlimited, it was very plentiful; and with respect to the Fire. Brigades, the delay in the supply was almost nil. He did not think anyone could complain of the supply; if anything, there was too much pressure. A further advantage from the present system was the flushing of the sewers; and on sanitary grounds alone he could imagine no Bill which would have so serious an effect 38 on the health of the poorer population of London. For these reasons, and because he thought the Bill was ill-timed, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, that in seconding this Amendment he did not propose to refer to the many points which the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) had brought under the consideration of the House; but he would confine himself more strictly to the Bill of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This was not the time nor the place in which to enter upon a detailed defence of the action of the Water Companies, no more than it was a few weeks ago, when the Companies appeared in a deputation to the Home Secretary, and he had favoured them, as was his wont, with a long lecture upon their duties and obligations and their failures and shortcomings. They could not then properly answer the Home Secretary. It was a case of "Mine to speak and thine to hear." But he could assure the House that the Companies were most willing and anxious to defend their action, and to show how fully they had carried out the powers vested in them by Acts of Parliament, either before a Select Committee or Royal Commission. Now, this Bill had been called by the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) a mild and modest, a short and simple Bill. It was certainly short and simple, but he thought a good deal of guile and strategy lurked under its mildness and modesty. It was a clever attempt of the Metropolitan Board of Works to largely increase their powers, and yet to save themselves from what their Chairman had called the disagreeable task of applying for an indemnity for the exercise of such powers. He would very briefly recall the recollection of the House to what passed in 1878 and 1879. In 1878 the Board introduced two Bills—the one for the purchase of the Water Companies; the other for the introduction of a new water supply into the Metropolis. The Board was warned over and over again that it would be impossible to pass these Bills, or either of them; but they persisted in proceeding with them. However, the Purchase Bill was withdrawn, after debate, before the second reading; the Supply Bill got a snap second reading on a Wednesday, when there were only a few 39 Members in the House. The expenses of the Board in merely preparing these Bills cost £15,000, and the Auditor very properly surcharged these expenses. The hon. and gallant Baronet seemed to complain of this ruling of the Auditor, and that there was no appeal from his decision; but he (Sir Henry Holland) would point out that the decision was practically confirmed by Parliament in 1879 by the Act which the Chairman of the Board was compelled to bring in to charge these expenses upon the ratepayers. In the Preamble of that Act—42 & 43 Vict. c. 65—it was stated that the two Bills of 1878 were promoted by the Metropolitan Board of Works "in good faith, but beyond the powers conferred upon them by Parliament." Now, by the present Bill the Metropolitan Board of Works desired to secure the liability of the ratepayers in advance. He protested against the second reading, both in the interest of the Water Companies and of the ratepayers. And, first, as regards the Water Companies. He admitted that he was interested both as a Shareholder and as a Director of one of these Companies; but he could never understand an argument which was often used, that because a Member was so interested he ought to refrain from speaking out on behalf of the Companies. On the contrary, he held that as a Director he was doubly bound to protect, to the best of his power, the interests of the shareholders—a very large proportion of whom were trustees of marriage settlements and properties—confided to the charge of the Directors, against any measure which, in their opinion, affected injuriously those interests. Now, if the Metropolitan Board had an absolute security for the costs and expenses incurred in preparing and promoting Bills of this kind relating to Water Companies, those Companies would have no check upon the objects or scope of such Bills; no check against their being of an impracticable or confiscatory character. It might be urged that Parliament would not pass Bills of that character; but although that would protect the Companies against ultimate loss, it would not protect them against the great expenses which they must necessarily incur in preparing to oppose and opposing such measures. It cost the Water Companies over £11,000 to oppose the two hopeless and illegal Bills 40 of 1878, although they combined together so as to lessen the expenses, and kept them down as closely as possible. The security of the Companies against this useless waste of money lay in the check now practically imposed upon the Board by the knowledge that ratepayers were not liable for these expenses, and would resist payment, if the Bills which were brought forward, and in respect of which the expenses were incurred, were "beyond the powers conferred upon the Metropolitan Board of Works by Parliament," or, if within those powers, were unreasonable and impracticable. He (Sir Henry Holland) further joined in the protest made by the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) against this Bill, on the ground of the time at which it had been brought forward. They were told that they were to have a new Municipal Government for London. That Government would possibly have vested in them powers to regulate the supply of gas and water to the Metropolis, even if they did not purchase the rights and powers of the Companies; and it surely was not desirable, until the details of that measure were known, to pass a Bill which might hamper the power of that Municipal Government by putting the Metropolitan Board of Works, if it continued to exist, in a position to deal with the question of the supply of water to the Metropolis. Nor, again, did he (Sir Henry Holland) think that the Metropolitan Board of Works should be entrusted with such large powers as they would practically have if this Bill, securing them their expenses, were passed. The Board had done good work, but they had plenty still to do; and their hands were full. So much he had said in the interest of the Water Companies and their shareholders. But on behalf of the ratepayers, of whom he was one, he entered a strong protest against this Bill. If it was passed they would lose all check upon the action, and even vagaries, of the Board, its officers, and especially its engineer. The latter was a most able man, but as the engineer of the Board he would not be satisfied unless he was engaged upon some new work in the Metropolis. If this Bill was passed, the ratepayers would be saddled in advance with the costs of any proceedings, however impracticable, however expensive. Take, for example, a Bill for providing a new 41 supply of water to the Metropolis. What did the hon. and gallant Baronet say upon this point in 1879? He said—The large question of the supply of fresh water for the whole of the Metropolis was very expensive, and we found it necessary to consult the best engineers and the best chemical analysts to test the various qualities of water.And this was most fully confirmed by the Schedule of the Act of 1879. He found there the following items:—Counsel, £1,045 15s.; Chemists, £1,438 6s.; Parliamentary agents, £1,378 3s.; Advertisements, £1,105 11s. 10d.; and Engineers, £6,320 7s. 8d. All these expenses, it must be remembered, were incurred before the Bills got to a second reading, and would have been doubled or trebled if they had; been fought before a Select Committee. If the Bill now before the House was passed, the ratepayers would be liable for the expenses of any Bill which might be brought in, perhaps, against the wishes of a large minority of the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Unless he was misinformed, there was a considerable minority against the Bills of 1868. The ratepayers had had to pay the costs of those Bills; let them beware against now making themselves liable in advance for costs of other Bills introduced in a like manner. If this Bill was passed, they would make themselves liable for the costs of Bills though promoted, as were the Bills of 1878, beyond the powers of the Metropolitan Board. It was true that in 1879 the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) said that if the opposition to that Costs Bill was removed, he would never put his name to such Bills as those of 1868, "without some consultation with the Government." Those, however, who opposed that Bill, including his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), only withdrew their opposition on the understanding that he should not do so "without the consent of Her Majesty's Government," and he (Sir Henry Holland) held him to that understanding. But even that check was by no means an efficient check upon the future action of the Board; and for these reasons: First, because if a Bill—say, for supply of water to the Metropolis—was introduced by the authority of a large majority of the Board, the Government would hardly like to refuse their formal consent, 42 though they might not be prepared to support the Bill; and, secondly, because the pledge so given by the Chairman was a personal pledge, and would not bind his successor, nor would it bind the Board as a Board, and consequently the majority of the Board might, against the wishes of the Chairman, insist upon promoting such a Bill without the consent of the Government. The Chairman (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) would then, no doubt, as an honourable man retire; but if the Bill were proceeded with, the ratepayers would be liable to defray all the costs and expenses. If this Bill was passed, the Board would, it might be feared, become less careful about the provisions of any Water Bill they might desire to introduce, as their costs would all be secured to them. Surely the ratepayers would not of their own accord thus put their heads into the noose which had been so skilfully prepared for them by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and which would soon be tightened upon them. Surely they would not thus make themselves liable in advance for the costs of any measure in respect of the water supply to London which the Board might think fit to undertake. The precedent would be a bad one; as he thought it very probable that if the Board succeeded with this Bill, they would introduce Bills of a like kind with respect to the supply of gas, and other undertakings affecting the Metropolis. He would conclude by again urging upon the House that this was not a convenient or proper time for putting the Metropolitan Board of Works in a better position to get power over these Water and Gas Companies, when London was to have a new Municipal Government.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words" upon this day six months."—(Mr. Coope.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) that it was not desirable to spend more time than was necessary upon this Bill, especially as the issue it raised was very short; and, therefore, he was anxious at once to state the views of the Government with regard to it. The debate had been to 43 him a very interesting and rather amusing: one, because it had brought into prominence matters of great interest to this great City in which we lived. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Middlesex had spoken in his capacity of the Representative of that county or as the advocate of the Water Companies. [Mr. COOPE: No. As representing the interests of the Metropolis.] He confessed that those who heard what the hon. Member had said would rather think that he spoke in the interests of the Water Companies than of the Metropolis. He had always regarded the hon. Member as a Representative of a still stronger interest even than water. He was a very powerful man as Member for Middlesex, and as Representative, apparently, of the two most powerful liquid monopolies in existence. The hon. Member was very wrath with the Metropolitan Board of Works. The hon. Member had been very wrath the other day with the Corporation of London for bringing forward a Water Bill, on the ground that they only represented one square mile of territory; but the hon. Member could scarcely object to the Metropolitan Board of Works for bringing in this Bill on such a ground as that. He confessed that he should have expected to see the two great Bodies, who more or less represented the Metropolis—the Corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works—acting together in the common interest in the matter of the water supply; but it was remarkable that the Bill of the Corporation of London had not received the support of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and that when the present Bill was under discussion the Lord Mayor was absent. It was, therefore, quite plain, as the Committee of 1880 pointed out, that the difficulty of London with repect to the question of water was, that that there was no single Municipal Body capable of doing justice to its interests and wants. For his own part, he entirely concurred in the Report of the Committee of 1880, that some Municipal Body should be appointed to take charge of the water supply of the Metropolis and of other similar questions. The position of London as regarded its water supply was lamentable, and the subject should be dealt with not by the Government, but by some body that could properly represent the Metropolis. Since 44 when the Committee to which he had referred made their Report, there had been expectation and longing that the Representatives of the Metropolis would do something in this matter; but four years had elapsed, and yet nothing had been done. In the present year, however, both Corporations—that of the City of London and that of the Metropolitan Board of Works—had suddenly rushed to the rescue, perhaps, as the hon. Member had suggested, with a desire for popularity, which was in itself an evil ambition. He should rather say that perhaps it savoured of that repentance which sometimes comes to bodies that have reached an advanced period of life. It was not for him, certainly, to discourage repentance of that kind. His support would be given both to the Corporation of London and to the Metropolitan Board of Works—indeed, to any body representing the population of the Metropolis who would attempt to relieve them of a great evil and injustice. The question was, whether they were to give the Metropolitan Board of Works the right to represent interests which could not otherwise defend themselves? It was felt every day that one of the great evils in London was the want of some body who could come forward and act on behalf of the disjecta membra of that great City. The Metropolitan Board of Works had, for some purposes, the authority to do that, and he was disposed on every ground to support a proposal which appeared to him perfectly reasonable in itself. The hon. Member said he thought they ought to wait for a magnificent and comprehensive measure. He anticipated the vote of the hon. Member for that great and comprehensive measure; but knowing, perhaps, more about it than than the hon. Member knew, he did not feel that this Bill would at all stand in its way. Certainly he was not at all disposed to restrain the ardour, even if it were of a somewhat new-born character, of the Metropolitan Board of Works or the Corporation of London; and when they came forward with measures fitted to be useful, and appropriate to a mischief requiring to be remedied, he would render them every support in his power.
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
said, he rose to support the Motion of the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works that the Bill be read a second time. 45 The Board had fairly stated their immediate intention, and it was impossible for them to state their ultimate intention. The Board asked for powers which it was clearly intended by the wording of the Act that they should possess, but which apparently they were not given. They asked for additional powers to enable them to watch over the interests of the ratepayers; and as the Central Municipal Authority for a large portion of the Metropolis, he could not think that there was any body better fitted to guard the interests of the ratepayers than the Metropolitan Board of Works. He protested against the ratepayers waiting until the proposed large and comprehensive measure dealing with Metropolitan Government became law. He could not think that the feeling of the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) with regard to the Water Companies was now shared by the majority. It was said that the Board had brought order out of chaos; and, if so, he thought they might be trusted to bring order out of chaos in the Water Question, and for these reasons he trusted the Bill would be read a second time.
§ MR. FIRTH
said, that if there were to be an autocrat in this matter at all, he would select nobody sooner than the President of the Local Government Board; but, in his opinion, that was one of the forms of our centralized government which ought to be changed. It was argued that the ratepayers, if not satisfied with the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works, could turn them out; but that was just what they could not do, at least for a great many years to come. For that reason he thought these powers should be given to a body which was distinctly representative of the people of London. They were told that the water of the Metropolitan Companies was incontestably pure. Now, he found that from the last Report of Dr. Frankland that of 141,000,000 gallons supplied to the Metropolis daily 8,000,000 only were pure. Of the remainder, 69,941,000 were largely polluted with sewage, and 62,495,000 were occasionally polluted with sewage. The difficulty with respect to the Bill was whether these powers should be given to be exercised on behalf of the London people which had no body distinctly representing it. After giving the matter careful consideration, 46 he had conoluded to support the Bill for two reasons. First, because if the Metropolitan Board of Works had power after power given to it, the inevitable result must be to drive home more closely to the inhabitants of London the necessity for having a body directly representing the London people and directly elected by them. The other reason was that if the time should come, as he trusted it might, when a measure in that sense would be introduced, its difficulty would not be increased by this Bill. The powers it gave were perfectly Constitutional; and, having regard to the future, he should give the Bill his support.
§ MR. BOORD
asked what his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) would do with this Bill, supposing it were read a second time? He had been endeavouring to ascertain that, but all he could get from him was that he would tell them next year. He (Mr. Boord) did not at all approve of giving the Metropolitan Board of Works those very large powers, because, for all they knew, his hon. and gallant Friend might be about to oppose the Water Bill of the Corporation of London, and there were strong objections against taxing the ratepayers of London for such a purpose as that.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that the Home Secretary had been engaging in praising himself, and having done that he ran away. The present Government were inclined to make a mistake which they committed once before when in Office—the mistake of "harassing every interest." He did not see why the Water Companies should be abused at all. If they did not supply water as pure as they could supply it, some Act similar to the Adulteration Acts might be passed dealing with the matter. The Water Companies had been started like any other body of adventurers, on the commercial chance of obtaining interest for their money. But there was no reason why, because they had made a successful venture, they should be approached in a hostile spirit. Because Mr. Dobbs had succeeded with reference to one Water Company, showing that it had charged too much, it did not follow that other Companies had done the same. He was altogether opposed to the spirit of confiscation, whether applied to Irish land, to Railways, or to Water Com- 47 panies. Under this Bill the Metro-poplitan Board might stop any scheme of their own, interfere with any scheme that might be proposed by others, and appear in every Court of the land, while all the expense of so doing was to be paid by the unhappy ratepayers. He thought these schemes of confiscation ought to come from other sources. He would advise his hon. and gallant Friend to follow the advice of Augustus to his successors, and not to seek to extend his Empire. He hoped the House would not lend itself to a popular cry for confiscation that he regretted had come from the Conservative Benches rather than from the other side of the House, whence it might more naturally have proceeded.
§ MR. E. COLLINS
supported the Bill. The situation of the ratepayers at present was intolerable. The hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland) said that the only check upon confiscatory Bills of this character was the raising of the rates. Speaking as the Representative of a large body of ratepayers, with a revenue of some £300,000 a-year, he assured the House that no rate that could be levied by a local body would be more cheerfully paid than one to defray the costs incurred under any Bill which would enable the ratepayers to obtain justice in a matter of this kind. It was true that the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works did not directly represent the interests and wishes of the ratepayers; but they did so indirectly. He could say, from his own personal knowledge, that the gentlemen who represented the Vestries on the Board were so amenable to the opinions of those Vestries that they would not dare to act in opposition to them.
§ MR. ALAN EGERTON
said, that on the 1st of August last year a deputation, to which all the Vestries of London sent representatives, waited on the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who stated that theirs was a cry of distress coming up from London. But the right hon. Gentleman held out no hope of help; but he told them, in effect, to help themselves. This Bill, which was brought forward by the Metropolitan Board of Works, was the outcome of that deputation, and it asked simply to increase the powers already conferred upon the Board 48 of Works. But a red herring had been drawn across the scent, and every sort of dummy had been put up in order to be knocked down again. The Bill simply proposed to confer on one authority that which any authority in the Metropolis did not at present possess. It was a foreshadowing of a central authority. But when was that central authority coming? Were we to be like Spaniards who, when asked to do anything, always said "to-morrow." He would, therefore, ask the House to allow the Bill to be read a second time.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, he was very sorry to observe the tone of some of the remarks made by the Home Secretary. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Government had not to look after the interests of shareholders. That, as a general proposition, might be more or less true; but the Home Secretary, who was the English Minister of Justice, should know that shareholders in Water Companies had their rights secured to them under 75 Acts of Parliament, and a carelessly-drawn measure which might be brought forward to attack those rights ought to have the reprobation and not the support of the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill introduced by the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works not only gave that Body power to raise money by means of rates for the purpose of promoting or passing Bills, but it also gave them power to make inquiries in reference to applications that might be made by Water Companies, and to prosecute or defend legal proceedings. In this rate-ridden Metropolis, therefore, they were to have an additional rate—a litigation rate. It seemed to him that the measure would enable the Board of Works to spend any amount of money, and, at the same time, relieve them of that careful supervision which had hitherto been exercised with so much advantage to the ratepayers by the Public Auditor. The hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), who moved the second reading, said they were checked by the Auditor. What were they checked in? So far as he could see, the Auditor checked them in a piece of extravagance, and he (Colonel Makins) did not think it desirable that facilities for that extravagance should be put into their hands. What was the position of the Water Companies in this matter? They were 49 bound to defend the cause they represented against the attacks made upon their statutory rights. The money spent in that direction, however, did not necessarily come out of the pockets of the shareholders, because it was really money which had been held back so as to prepare for a time when the price of water would be reduced. If, therefore, the Water Companies spent money on litigation, it would have the effect of postponing a reduction of price. With reference to the judgment of the House of Lords in the Dobbs case, it should be remembered that that was only one of four judgments, two of which agreed with the view taken by the Water Companies. The Companies accepted that judgment loyally, as they were bound to do, and they then endeavoured to obtain information, in order to enable them to fix the rate upon the basis said down. The circular which they sent out was described as being of an inquisitorial character, and almost impertinen; but that was the only course they could adopt in the matter, and the result of receiving no replies was that the Companies were, to some extent, acting in the dark. They fixed a rate which they believed to be right; but it could only be tested when the consumer objected to it, and brought the matter before a Court. When a consumer took a case into Court, he was bound to give that information which he declined or neglected to give in reply to the Companies' circular. As a ratepayer and as a member of Water Companies, he could not regard the Bill now before the House in a favourable light, and if the hon. and gallant Baronet went to a Division, he should be unable to give him his support.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he differed altogether from his hon. and gallant Friend who had just sat down, and he desired to give a reason why this most useful Bill should be supported and passed. In the first place, he might say that he was one of the relics of Mr. Ayrton's Committee which sat some years ago, and examined very fully the question of London Government. The recommendations of that Committee would, he contended, have solved in a far better manner the great question of London Government than the comprehensive measure which some day the Government were to lay on the Table of 50 the House. He held that the Metropolitan Board of Works was a body which represented the intelligence of the Metropolitan districts, and it was likely to represent that intelligence much better than any scheme that might be devised by the Government for creating a body to be elected by harum-scarum ratepayers, who would always be more or less subordinate to the influence of caucuses and wire-pullers. That Board had been charged with extravagance; but the accusation had not been established, and there was no reason to suppose that it would become extravagant after it had acquired the larger powers contemplated by that Bill. Reference had been made to the question of a constant supply of water. It seemed to be supposed that if householders only erected in their houses the apparatus necessary for a constant supply, they would be able to get it; but that was an entire fallacy. He, himself, was one of those unfortunate individuals who had gone to the expense of providing such an apparatus, and when he called on the Water Company to give him a constant supply, they produced a clause of their Act showing that unless a certain proportion of the inhabitants of the district applied for a constant supply he could not have it himself. His noighbours, however, would not go to the same expense as he had done, and therefore he could not obtain a constant supply. In conclusion, having confidence in the Metropolitan Board of Works, and believing that if they were entrusted with the further powers contained in that measure, the inhabitants of London would be put in the way of securing a better supply of water than they had at present, he would support the second reading of that Bill, which, he believed, was more likely to prove useful to the country than many of the measures enumerated in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
§ SIR JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG
said, he must express his gratification at the manner in which the Bill had been received on both sides of the House. If the Bill were read a second time, he would endeavour to get it passed as soon as he could. As to the remark that the Bill would yield a provision for life to the solicitor, engineer, and other officers of the Board, he could assure the House that they would not get a penny extra, 51 and would have, on the contrary, a good deal of extra hard work.
§ SIR JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG
said, his desire was to have the Bill considered in Committee of the Whole House—not in a Select Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Original Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.