§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR THOMAS CHAMBERS
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was—To make provision for the supply of water by measure within the limits of the Metropolis, and certain places in the neighbourhood thereof, by the Companies authorized to supply water within such limits; to amend the Acts relating to the said Companies as to charges, dividends, and the issue of new capital, and for other purposes.1198 The House would be quite familiar with the question of the water supply of the Metropolis; because for the last 60 years it had been, over and over again, the subject of controversy in the public Press; there had been frequent debates and Divisions in the House upon it; and Select Committees had been appointed more than once to consider the question. The House was quite aware that the water supply of the Metropolis had to be purchased and paid for for every man, woman, and child within it, and that the supply was, practically, a monopoly, which had been necessarily granted to the Water Companies of London, which were eight in number—namely, the New River, the East London, the Southwark and Vauxhall, the West Middlesex, the Lambeth, the Chelsea, the Grand Junction, and the Kent Companies. In 1880–1 an inquiry was made by a Select Committee into the complaints which, from time to time, had been made in the public Press, and on the part of various districts of the Metropolis, that they were unfairly dealt with in regard to the supply of water. The House would also be aware that at present the charge for the water was quite irrespective of the quantity consumed by the customer as well as of the quality. The assessment was made upon the rateable value of the property in the Metropolis, a mode of charge first brought about by the late Lord Shaftesbury, who was for many years Chairman of Committees in the other House of Parliament. In the course of some inquiries before Lord Shaftesbury, that noble Lord made a suggestion which the Water Companies took notice of, and since then they had charged according to the rateable value of the property supplied. It was in reference to this mode of assessment and charge that the outcry against the Water Companies of London had been raised. It had created the greatest discontent, and he thought with a good deal of reason, on the ground that it was not a proper mode of charging for the supply of water. The charge had been made upon the assessments on the rateable value since about the year 1855; and when it was first made the rateable value of property in London was about £4 per head of the population. At the present time the rateable value of London was £7 per head of the whole population, so that 1199 the water was now charged for at a rate 75 per cent higher to the customers than it was in 1855. Now, the Companies had done nothing to earn that increased charge, either in respect of the quantity or quality of the water, nor had they done anything to make it right that the customer should pay 75 per cent more now for the water than he did in 1855. Not only had the rateable value increased from £4 to £7 per head of the population, but it was daily increasing, and, in all human probability, would continue to increase. He contended that the principle upon which this payment was made was a wrong principle, and that it could not possibly be maintained. The dislike of the population—their disgust, he was about to say, at having to pay the present water rates was very great; and he did not think it would be possible for the Water Companies to maintain the principle of assessment they had adopted, and for the last 30 years maintained. The principle worked against the consumer year after year, and would continue to go against him, as long as the rateable value of the property within the Metropolis increased, and nothing could be more unfair than that the people of London should now pay for the same article 75 per cent more than they did 30 years ago. He was not complaining of the Water Companies. Like all other monopolists, they exercised their powers within the rights which Parliament had conferred upon them, and it would be idle to complain of them. They had to consider the interests of their shareholders, so long as they kept within the limits of their statutory powers. Indeed, some of them not only said that their charges were made in strict compliance with the rights Parliament had conferred upon them, but that they had not come up to the full exercise of their powers. No doubt they were perfectly entitled to use that argument; but those who supported the Water Companies of London would have to consider what weight such arguments were likely to have in the long run in the face of the public experience of the kind of supply which the population of London received. It must also be borne in mind that the cost of the supply to the people of the Metropolis was altogether unequal. For instance, a house in a fashionable situation like South Kensington would fetch 1200 £400 a-year; whereas a similar house with the same number of rooms, but in a more unfashionable quarter, would only fetch £130 a-year. The difference in rent was represented by a difference in the rates between Russell Square and South Kensington; nevertheless, the quantity of water consumed was the same, and the quality was the same; therefore, the charge bore no relation whatever, either to the quality or the quantity of the article paid for. In regard to gas, which, as they all knew, was also a monopoly, there were regulated charges. Parliament had interfered and introduced in favour of the public, stipulations against the Gas Companies under which they were to supply the article they trade in, giving the Gas Companies, no doubt, some advantages when the review of their charges took place; but at the time the review took place the cost of the manufactured article was getting cheaper and cheaper in the country, while the cost of water, which was not manufactured, but had only to be pumped up and distributed, was continually increasing, and would continue to increase, to the public. Therefore, the inequality and injustice between the charges made for the two articles were absolutely beyond controversy. There was no excuse for the present state of things, except the language of the Acts of Parliament under which the charge was made; and no one could contend that Parliament had not only the right, but was bound to interfere in the interests of the consumer. Of course, if a case of injustice could not be shown, the complaint must fall to the ground; but if it could be shown, having due regard to the interests of those concerned—namely, the present Water Companies, and without injustice to them, that something could be done to rectify the continually increasing injustice done to the public, it ought certainly to be done, and no doubt Parliament would undertake to do it. This Bill proposed nothing further than to give the option to the customer of taking water by measure, and not of paying for it according to the rateable value of his property. He would then pay only for what he had. He could not remember another instance of an article bought and sold, where the price charged had no relation whatever to the quality or quantity of the thing sold. It was so, 1201 however, with regard to water. The Bill proposed to give the customer power to say to the Water Companies—"I will take my water by measure, and I will pay for it according to the quantity I consume." Surely nothing could be fairer than that; and if there might be certain cases in which it would not be fair—as, for instance, where the quantity taken was very small, and the cost of supplying it larger than the average—those were matters for a Select Committee to inquire into and settle. No doubt, the Committee would make allowance for any extraordinary circumstances, such as the cost of supplying Hampstead Hill, or a district where there were only a few houses, and those very much scattered. Those were special circumstances for the consideration of a Select Committee, which would not allow injustice to be done to the Water Companies any more than they would allow the present state of things to get continually worse in relation to the public. It had been said that the present arrangement was an arrangement in favour of the poor—that the assessment of the rich paid part of the cost of supplying the poor; but the statistics entirely disposed of that argument, and it had no foundation in point of fact. It was shown that a rate of 3s. a-quarter was now charged in the poorer districts of London, and that 3s. a-quarter would more than pay for all the water the poor consumed. It was urged, on the part of those who opposed this Bill, that the poor should be encouraged in the consumption of water. At the same time, one effect of this measure would be to put an end to the present enormous cost of water within the limits of the Metropolis. No doubt there were statistics by which it could be proved, by those who were the best judges of the matter, that 50 per cent of the water supplied by all the Water Companies was wasted. That was a very serious thing. It did no good to anybody—it did not even clear the sewers. It only filled the receptacles which went down to the Thames, and put the authorities to the expense of pumping it out again. It had done no good whatever; and if that 50 per cent of water could be saved, it would postpone for many years the consideration of where a new supply was to be found to satisfy the wants of an overgrown population like this. Under 1202 these circumstances, the Corporation of London thought the Bill they proposed was a Bill which might safely be committed to the care of a Select Committee, constituted as the House might consider most convenient, where those who represented the Water Companies would be fully heard, and where the promoters of the Bill would be able to call witnesses in support of their case. It would then be for the wisdom of Parliament to say whether some change in the law might not be adopted which would put an end to the evil now so greatly complained of, and give the same satisfaction to the population of London as that which they had felt in an analogous case—namely, the gas supply. If that could be done, he thought the Corporation of London would have done a great public service in submitting this Bill to the consideration of the House. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Thomas Chambers.)
§ MR. COOPE
said, he rose to oppose one of the most extraordinary pieces of legislation which had ever been attempted to pass into law in that House. It was singular that the Corporation of London should have brought in this Bill, inasmuch as the Corporation had power to legislate over about one square mile of the Metropolis; whereas they were now proposing to legislate for something like 300 square miles, that being the area occupied by the present Water Companies. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Recorder of London had made one or two rather startling observations, which, however, could hardly be relied upon by the House as positive facts. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that nothing had been done by the Water Companies as regarded either the quantity or quality of the water supplied; but, nevertheless, that their rates and their receipts were very much greater. The hon. and learned Gentleman made this further remarkable statement—that the water wasted was of no use whatever, and that, in point of fact, it only occasioned trouble and expense to the Water Companies, and especially to the local authorities, who had to pump it up again and throw it into the river, down which it flowed away without advantage or profit to 1203 anybody. Was the hon. and learned Member not aware that the waste water was of the greatest possible benefit in cleansing and sweetening the drains and sewers connected with the houses of the poor? In that respect it was invaluable in a sanitary point of view. It was rather curious that the Corporation of London should have brought in a Bill which certainly would afford great relief to the wealthy bankers, merchants, and warehousemen occupying large and valuable properties in the City; but which would punish the poor in order to benefit the rich, by stinting them in their supply of water. He did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman could possibly get over that argument. As regarded the charges made by the Companies, the public were certainly under a great misapprehension upon that score. He was perfectly well aware that the Water Directors were looked upon as extortioners, or as greedy cormorants, whose sole object was to rob those who took their supply of water. But what were the Waterwork Directors doing? They were carrying out, most faithfully and most strictly, a great number of Acts of Parliament. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), if he were present, to give his testimony as to what had been done by the Water Companies, especially since the Act of 1871, in the way of increasing the quality and the supply of water. The quality was no longer a question in suspense or doubt. As a matter of fact, owing to the nice regulations between the influx of water and the efflux of drainage, the Metropolis of London had now been made the healthiest city in the world. It had nothing like the same extent of death rate as many other large towns. Prom the last Report of the Registrar General, it appeared that the death rate in London was 19.3 per 1,000; while many other large towns—such as Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool—were in a very different position. Indeed, he believed that the death rate in Manchester was as high as 29 per 1,000. He thought that fact would show that, even with the most modern legislation, where every effort had been made to avail themselves of the improvements of science and modern inventions, the Provinces had not been able to improve 1204 upon the water supply of London. He might state that the present mode of charging upon the rateable value had been consistently acted upon by Parliament for the last 80 years; and many measures which had been submitted as an improvement upon rating in accordance with the annual value had been rejected—such, for instance, as the cubical contents of the houses supplied, the number of rooms they contained, and many other principles. But in all the changes which had been suggested the question of supplying water by meter had never been submitted until the introduction of this strange, singular, and ill-considered Bill of the Corporation of London. The water rate was obviously a tax upon property, and it was so arranged that the poor should receive full benefit at the expense of the rich. The Water Companies had felt that it was their duty to meet the wants of the poor in that respect. If they attempted to supply water by meter, they would at once considerably curtail the quantity of water the poor would get. At present, every small house received a supply from the Water Companies of 66,000 gallons per annum. According to the Corporation Bill, they would receive only 24,000 gallons per annum, or a little more than one-third; but the charge to the poor would be 3s. per quarter, and 3s. was the lowest charge for the use of the meter. Therefore, the total charge would be 15s. a-year; whereas many houses now supplied by the Water Companies did not pay more than from 8s. to 10s. a-year; so that it was evident that, while the poor would be robbed of a considerable part of their water supply, they would have to pay a great deal more for it. It was perfectly true that innumerable objections had been made against the Water Companies for charging upon this system, and, no doubt, the water rate collector was a most unpopular person to many people; but if the public would only realize what was really the fact, that the Companies were honestly, faithfully, and loyally carrying out their part of the duty, it was only right that the public should fall in and do their part as well. As regarded the effect upon the Water Companies of the present Bill, he did not believe the framers of it could ever have thought of what its consequences would be. The Water 1205 Companies had fully considered the proposals contained in the measure; and in the calculations they had made they only differed as to whether they would be totally ruined, or simply lose one-half of their income. He maintained that, fortified by many Acts of Parliament, the Companies were entitled to their statutory dividends; and if, as was probably the case, the day might arrive when the Companies were purchased, they could only be purchased upon that basis. Mr. Smith went into a careful calculation; his value of the Water Companies was based upon that principle, and he (Mr. Coope) maintained that no other principle could fairly or honestly be applied. He was certainly surprised, and regarded it as something wonderful, that such a revolutionary measure as this should be introduced by the ancient and venerable Corporation of London, possessing, as it did, such grand old traditions of its own. Seeing that that Body was so apt to speak with pride of the good old times and the good old customs, he was very much astonished that his right hon. Friend the Lord Mayor (Mr. R. N. Fowler) could possibly give his countenance to so revolutionary a measure.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER (LORD MAYOR)
said, he did not go so far as that; he had only said that the Bill itself was prepared when his Predecessor was in Office.
§ MR. COOPE
said, that, at all events, the Bill had been introduced into the House by the hon. and learned Recorder for the City of London; and therefore he presumed that it was introduced with the sanction and approval of the Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen. He was very glad to find that the Lord Mayor was a little shy in the matter. It induced him to entertain the hope that it was quite possible the measure might not be introduced with such earnestness as he was afraid it must have been; because really to press forward a Bill of this kind as the child of the Corporation was simply suicidal to the Corporation themselves; because, if they once advocated the doing away with vested rights 1206 and interests, and induced Parliament to sanction such views, he should like to know where the Corporation themselves would be? It was very curious that this Bill should have been introduced by the Corporation of London, inasmuch as the House ought to believe that they were fully alive to the great necessity of an ample and good supply of water, and that they had taken active measures themselves with that object in view. It was unfortunate, however, that the Corporation of London did not appear for centuries to have taken any active steps at all for obtaining a satisfactory and perfect supply. Down to the 13th century Londoners were wont, with pail and pitcher, to resort to the banks of the Thames, or to draw their water from wells at Wallbrook, Oldbourne, Long-bourne, Holywell, Clement's Well, Olerk-enwell, and other places; but ultimately it was found that such a supply was not sufficient, and then they showed great energy in laying down leaden-pipes from the town of Tyburn to a great stone cistern then in public use in West-cheape, at the point now occupied by the monument of Sir Robert Peel. This "great conduit," as it was called, occupied 50 years in construction, and for more than three centuries the Lord Mayor and Commonalty, aided by private gifts from worthy citizens, continued to supply London with water. In the end that supply was found to be insufficient, and about 300 years ago the Corporation obtained an Act to enable them to supply water by pumping from the Thames. But they had not energy enough to carry out their own scheme; and in 1580 they made arrangements with a Peter Morris, and leased to him the first arch of old London Bridge for 500 years, at 10s. a-year. Morris built there his Thames Water Mill, for pumping Thames water into the City, and set up works as the first water monopolist in the Metropolis. It was said that the Lord Mayor and Aldermen went in state to witness Morris astonish the citizens by throwing a jet of water over the bridge and over the steeple of the Church of St. Magnus. Thus the Corporation lost a great opportunity for themselves; and the water supplied by Morris from the Thames, besides being limited in quantity, was often exceedingly turbid and foul, and the squalor of the poor occasioned 1207 well-grounded apprehensions that the plague would renew its dreadful visitations. Moved by such considerations, the Corporation obtained power from Parliament, towards the end of the Reign of Elizabeth, to cut a river for conveying water to the City from any part of Middlesex or Hertfordshire. Having obtained their Act, with true Corporate procrastination, they rested on their oars for six or seven years; and in 1603 the plague broke out. They then sent surveyors to survey the springs of water situated in various places round London, and after much delay they fixed on the springs of Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire. In 1607 they obtained a new Act authorizing the conveying of these waters by an aqueduct to the City. Two years elapsed, and they then made over to Sir Hugh Myddleton the right to construct a new river, and to bring water from the Hertford springs. The Corporation themselves would have nothing to do with it; they said—"You must do it on your own responsibility." Sir Hugh Myddleton was a man of energy and skill, with business habits, and he at once set to work and contrived to get together a Company for constructing a conduit from Amwell to London. Unfortunately, not possessing a proper knowledge of engineering, he was obliged to make the channel between Bishop's Stortford and London double the length he had calculated; and the consequence was that when he had completed his works about half way to London—namely, to Enfield—he was obliged to stop for want of funds. He applied to the Corporation again, but they turned a deaf ear to him. Myddleton then applied to the King; and, thanks to the scientific knowledge of the Scotch King—James I.—that Monarch undertook to supply half the funds, on condition that he should have one-half of the profits and emoluments. To those terms Myddleton acceded, and subsequently a Charter was granted to the Company under the title of the New River Company. The shares of the Royal Incorporation in 1609 were divided into "King's shares," and the "adventures' shares," the holders of the latter possessing all the powers of management. He now came to the character of the water supply. Numerous official Reports had been made by Royal Commissions, Select Commit- 1208 tees, and other public authorities between 1828 and the present time. The Duke of Richmond's Commission, in 1866, said—That the abundance, permanence, and regularity of supply, so important to a great Metropolis, are secured much more efficiently by the great extent and varied geological character of a large hydrographical basin, such as the Thames, than by the necessarily very much more limited collecting areas that can be made available on the gravitation system. Further, that there is no evidence to lead us to believe that the water now supplied by Companies is not generally good and wholesome.Mr. Ayrton's Committee said, in 1867—We are satisfied that both the quantity and quality of the water supplied from the Thames are so far satisfactory that there is no ground for disturbing the arrangements made under the Act of 1852, and that any attempt to do so would only end in entailing a waste of capital, and an unnecessary charge upon the owners and occupiers of property in the Metropolis.He did not think that he ought to detain the House longer than to say that he believed, from the pregnant words of the Speaker on taking the Chair, that the right hon. Gentleman had convinced every Member that it was his earnest desire to uphold the dignity of the House, and to preserve inviolate the faith and honour of Parliamentary engagements. It must not be forgotten that the measure was one which affected very large vested interests. He quite agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, who gave the Water Companies so courteous a reception at the Home Office the other day, that an Act of Parliament was not intended to last for ever, and that it might be, under certain circumstances, repealed; but when capital had been invested on the faith of Acts of Parliament, those persons who had invested their capital had a right to be fully compensated for the outlay which they had been induced to make. This Bill was fraught with danger to the community; it attacked interests which had hitherto been secured by the sanction of the Legislature; and he could not help thinking that the course taken with regard to it would have a considerable effect upon Railway Companies, Gas Companies, and all other Companies. The passing of such a measure would be most injurious to the community at large. The value of the property belonging to the Water Works Companies, although it had been undoubtedly de- 1209 preciated by these proceedings, was at least £25,000,000 sterling, about one-half of which was in the hands of Trustees, and, therefore, belonged to women and children, who had no one to protect their interests except Parliament. He was sure Parliament would not forsake that precious trust, but would in this case, as in all others, maintain the right of vested interests, and see that the engagements contained in Acts of Parliament were fully carried out. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
seconded the Amendment. He protested against the second reading of this Bill on behalf of the shareholders in the Water Companies—a large proportion of whom were, as had been stated, Trustees and Executors—and all of whom had invested their money in reliance on Acts of Parliament. He protested against this Bill, because serious damage was by it proposed to be inflicted on the Water Companies without adequate, or, indeed, as the Bill stood, any compensation being given to them. The principal object of the Bill was to substitute supply by meter for all purposes, trade and domestic, for the present system. Now, if this change were desirable—and he would assume it to be so for the sake of the present argument, though he believed upon examination it would prove not to be so—and if it were beneficial to the public, let it by all means be adopted; but the change should not be made in the face of rights solemnly secured by Acts of Parliament, unless proper compensation were made in respect of the capital laid out in reliance upon those Acts, and of the vested interests secured by those Acts. He was almost afraid of using that term, as the Home Secretary a few weeks ago, when he received and lectured a deputation from the Water Companies, seemed to pooh-pooh "vested interests," and said that whenever any improvement was suggested "vested interests stood in the way." Upon that he (Sir Henry Holland) would only observe that though it was quite right, and even necessary, that vested interests, whether of Corporations, or Companies, or individuals, should give way before a clear and pressing public interest, it would be monstrous that in such case they should be practically confis- 1210 cated; and wrong and unjust that they should even suffer whenever adequate compensation could be awarded. It was quite certain that if vested interests were to be treated, as they were treated in the Bill now under consideration, it would be a very unfortunate thing for the country at large, as it was unquestionable that capital would be largely invested in other countries, or, if invested here, would cease to be invested in undertakings established by private enterprize, which had proved so beneficial to the industry and wants of the country. What compensation should be awarded in cases like the present, and how the Companies could be properly secured in their statutory rights, could be readily tested by reference to the language of the Acts of Parliament by which those rights were vested in the Companies. It was clear, however, that the Corporation had had no regard to this point. They seemed to think that the Companies were bound to take what the Corporation thought fit to offer. Fortunately, however, for the Companies there was an excellent precedent in favour of their views which he felt sure would have great weight with the House. That precedent was embodied in the Instruction which, if this Bill were read a second time, his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) was prepared to move. It was taken from an Instruction sent down to a Committee which was considering a somewhat similar question affecting the Gas Companies; and it practically secured to the Companies such a price for the gas supplied by them as would enable them to earn their statutory dividend. By whom was this precedent established? Not by the Companies or their opponents, but by the Government of that day; for it was, in fact, an Instruction prepared and sent down to the Committee by the Board of Trade. He (Sir Henry Holland) trusted that the Liberal Government of the present day and the House would be prepared to deal as fairly now with the Water Companies as the Government and the House dealt with the Gas Companies in 1868. He would, with the kind permission of the House, now mention two special points upon which he relied against the second reading of this Bill. The first point was that this was not the proper time to propose such an import- 1211 ant change in the system of supply; and the second, that the Corporation of London were not the proper Body to propose it. As to the first point, he would remind the House that a Bill was to be introduced by the Government this year to create a new Municipal Government for the Metropolis. This Municipal Body, even if they did not purchase and take into their own hands the supply of water and gas to the Metropolis, would probably be invested with large powers for regulating that supply. Was it, then, wise or desirable to hamper them in advance by a system and regulations which experience might show, as he believed it would show, to be inexpedient in the interests of public and private health, on sanitary and economical grounds, and which they might, therefore, in a short time feel themselves bound to repeal? Surely this proposal should be postponed until the new Body had time fully to consider it in all its bearings. Again, it was hardly fair to the Water Companies to put them to the expense of fighting this question before a Body like the Corporation, instead of before a Body like the new Municipal Body, with whom the ultimate decision would practically rest. As to the second point, he would remind the House that the Corporation, who had only jurisdiction over an area of one square mile, were by this Bill endeavouring to effect a change over some 300 square miles, and affecting about 4,000,000 people. Not only that, but the Bill affected Companies who did not supply one drop of water within the City area. The Home Secretary had referred the deputation to the precedent of the Gas Companies. But upon examination it would be found that that supposed precedent failed. In that case the City Bill only applied to Companies who actually supplied gas within the City area; and the result of the proceedings was not a compromise between the Corporation and the Gas Companies, but a compromise, as he had already pointed out, between the Board of Trade and the Companies. The Home Secretary said that he should support this Bill, and a Bill of the Metropolitan Board of Works, by which it was sought to make the ratepayers liable in advance for any expenses incurred in respect of any Water Bills which that Board might think fit to bring in, as acts of "tardy repent- 1212 ance" on the part of those Bodies. He (Sir Henry Holland), however, did not believe in the repentance of those Bodies. He believed these Bills to be nothing more than bids for popularity; promoted from motives of self-interest; to get more power into their hands; to show that they were alive to the wants of the inhabitants of the Metropolis; and this in the hopes either of escaping merger into the new Municipal Board, or of being merged with more favourable conditions to themselves. This question of change of system of supply was far too important to be dealt with by a Body like the Corporation, and should not be brought forward except as a Government Bill, or upon the Report of a Royal Commission, after full examination of all the evidence for and against the scheme, which, he would observe, had, in fact, never received full consideration. As regarded the Bill itself, and its clauses, he desired to make a few observations. In the first place, it was by no means clear that the meter system for all purposes (trade and domestic) would work well from either a sanitary or economical point of view. It was certain that very much less water would be available for flushing and cleansing the great system of drains and sewers underlying the Metropolis; it was doubtful whether there would be water enough for that purpose. Should such be the case, there would either be great danger to the public health, or else the Companies would have to be called upon to find a sufficient extra supply for this special purpose, and for this they would have to be paid, and this charge would fall as an additional expense upon the ratepayers. Again, it was probable—he might almost say certain—that the poor would greatly stint their use of water, and thus lessen that personal and household cleanliness—already too little attended to—which was so important for public and private health. Great stress was laid upon this point both by the Committee of 1867 and the Royal Commission in their Report of 1869; and, though he did not often find himself in accord with the hon. and learned Gentleman the junior Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth), he entirely agreed with his just observations upon this point in his book on Municipal London, which he would take the liberty of quoting to the House— 1213The establishment of a general meter system would be an unfortunate thing for London. The more water is consumed in the cleansing of houses and in bath-rooms, gardens, and so forth, the better it is for the public health and sanitary condition.Nor did he (Sir Henry Holland) believe that this change of system was desirable from the economical point of view. He believed that the poor would lose, while the rich would gain. He would not trouble the House with figures; but, unless he had been misinformed, it could be proved that the poor in Liverpool and Manchester now paid more for the supply of water than the poor in London. Of course, he did not propose to test this by the proposed scale of 6d. per 1,000 gallons, as such a price could not be sustained. It would be absolutely unremunerative to the Companies, and seriously imperil their power to earn the dividend secured to them by Acts of Parliament; a power which had been recognized by a former Government in the case of the Gas Companies; a power upon the faith of which an enormous capital had been laid out, and very large sums expended, even in recent years, in improving filter beds and reservoirs, and thus improving the quality of the water supplied. The Corporation, in fixing this price, seemed to have overlooked the fact that in Liverpool and Manchester an initial fixed charge of 6d. or 3d. per pound was allowed on the rateable value of every house, whether supplied with water or not, in addition to the charge allowed for every 1,000 gallons of water supplied. No such initial charge was provided in this Bill. The price of 6d, per 1,000 gallons must, therefore, be greatly raised, and to this must be added the cost of the meter, and of keeping it in order. Thus, where a poor man was now charged from 6s. to 8s. per annum, he would have to pay, oven under this Bill, a minimum charge of 12s. per annum, to which must be added the charge for the meter. He thought he was justified in saying that this was a Bill to relieve the rich at the expense of the poorer classes. There was another most unfair and unworkable provision in the Bill, to which he desired to call attention. It enabled any person to apply for a supply by meter; but it did not allow the Companies to compel persons to have a meter supply. This was unworkable in practice, as engineers and those well acquainted with 1214 the question must know. The evidence before the Committee of 1867 showed that if the change of system was to be adopted it should be made compulsory on all. Again, there was nothing in the Bill to prevent a person who had applied for and got a meter supply, but who was dissatisfied with it, coming to the Company and requiring them to go back, so far as he was concerned, to the present system, without regard to the cost and inconvenience thus occasioned to the Company. There were other points which showed the crude and unsatisfactory way in "which this Bill had been prepared; but he would not now trouble the House with these. He would conclude by referring to one further point of some importance. It was proposed to make the poor rate valuation the basis of the charge for water. Now, that was a distinct breach of the arrangement made by Act of Parliament. The water charge was not in truth a "rate," but a charge or payment for goods supplied; and to make the poor rate conclusive was to introduce a principle which Committees had seen to be wrong, and to place the Companies wholly in the hands of parochial authorities, and to bind them to accept, as final, assessments in which they had had no voice. He would add that such a provision appeared to him to be, if not directly contrary to, at all events not in accordance with, the late decision in Dobbs' case in the House of Lords; for in that decision no reference was made to the poor rate valuation, while one of the Judges distinctly laid down how the net annual value should be arrived at. For these reasons, he protested against the second reading of this Bill.
§ 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."
§ COUNCIL MAKINS
trusted the House would allow him to make a few observations upon the Bill, and he would endeavour to avoid, as far as possible, touching upon the points which had already been dealt with. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Recorder of London (Sir Thomas Chambers), in introducing the Bill, had been careful to abstain from telling the House what the 1215 Bill contained; and, more than that, there were one or two things he had said in regard to it which could not be borne out by the Bill itself. In the first place, the hon. and learned Gentleman did not tell the House—and to him (Colonel Makins) it seemed to be an important matter, which had not yet been referred to at all—that the cost, supposing the consumers of London under this Bill were to adopt the meter system, would involve the Water Companies in an outlay of capital to something like the extent of £2,000,000, £3,000,000, or even £4,000,000, according to the cost of the meters, which had not yet been accurately ascertained. How was that money to be raised? The Water Companies had no power to raise such capital, and this Bill would give them no such power. Then in regard to another question which had been dealt with pretty freely—namely, the charge to the poor—the water rate and the meter rate per quarter under the Bill would amount to 18s. a-year; whereas there were thousands of houses under the present system where the annual water rate did not amount to more than 8s. or 10s. a-year, and for this excessive charge of 18s. per annum the consumer would receive less than half the quantity of water he now received. That was a very serious matter. In a crowded City like London they had more to fear from dirt than dynamite, because dirt meant disease, immorality, and drunkenness. There was no surer way of producing disease than by the generation of sewer gas, and the only way of preventing the generation of sewer gas was to provide a copious and plentiful supply of water, such as that which was supplied at present. They had been frequently told that the increase in the water rate had been in accordance with the increase in the assessment of the rateable value of the houses. That was a point which had been urged in favour of this Bill by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary when he received a deputation the other day, and which had been confirmed by the Recorder of London in introducing the measure. At first sight, no doubt, it appeared to be a great hardship; but if they looked into the matter closely they would find that it was not so, because the rate paid for water for the domestic supply included not only the supply used for domestic purposes, but also the public 1216 supply which, under other circumstances, the ratepayer would have to provide. As London increased, no doubt the sewers increased, and so did the amount of water required for cleansing the streets and extinguishing fires; and, therefore, the water rate must necessarily increase in exactly the same proportion, just as the poor rates and other rates increased. A man who lived only six months in London only used a certain amount of water, and only required a certain amount of police protection; but, as a citizen of London, he had to bear his proportion of the general local taxation, and to pay his share both of the police rate, the sewer rate, and the water rate. If the meter system were adopted, he would only pay by meter for his private supply; but the parish would, nevertheless, be called upon to pay for the public supply, and that would be charged to him in the public rates. Consequently, it would be exactly the same eventually, because he would have to pay the private rate plus his share of the public rate. Therefore, that hardship, which had struck so many people, when it came to be examined really had no force. When the Home Secretary received a deputation from the Water Companies, he referred to the way in which the Water Companies should be dealt with. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said there were three courses—purchase, competition, and regulation. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had considered the character of the present Bill, he might have added a fourth course—namely, annihilation—because, as far as some of the Companies were concerned, if the Bill passed in its present form, they would be unable to pay a dividend on their ordinary Stock, or upon their Preference Shares, or upon their borrowed capital, although there would be an immense augmentation in their working expenses. Consequently, the question could only be settled in one way—by the Company ceasing to exist at all. It was said, with regard to the purchase of Water Companies' rights, that the terms prescribed in the Act of 1881 were too high. No doubt that might be the case; but he would remind the House that wherever the undertaking of a Water Company had been purchased—as in the case of Middlesborough, Leeds, and other places—the price paid for it had been 1217 on much the same basis, and, in most cases, even a higher price had been paid than that adopted by Mr. Smith as the basis of the water purchase of the interest of the Metropolitan Companies. He came next to the question of competition. That had been dismissed summarily by the Home Secretary; and well he might so dismiss it, because if the value of the Water Companies' property was not now secured, what inducement would there be to people to subscribe their capital for a competing scheme? In addition to that, there was the physical difficulty of obtaining room in the streets for the laying down of more mains; and, therefore, the question of competition might be very quickly disposed of. He came next to the question of regulation, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had referred to the system adopted with reference to the Gas Companies. Now, as far as the Bill was a Regulation Bill, he (Colonel Makins), personally, could see no objection to it, although he had no right to speak on behalf of the Water Companies, because he was not a Water Director, and had nothing to do with the Water Companies, except as a Trustee for certain women and children. This Bill, as a Regulation Bill, left little to be said against it, except that it contained no power of amalgamation, a step which was pressed upon the Gas Companies by the Government. He should like to have seen in the Bill a power to amalgamate, because he believed that amalgamation would have a beneficial effect upon the supply, avoid cross-pumping, and also that it would reduce the price. In the case of the Gas Companies, there were originally 13 of them, and there were now only three large Companies, over one of which he had the honour to preside. They had absorbed into themselves the other 10 Companies; and by that process they had got rid of about 100 Directors, 13 Secretaries, and 13 Accountants, together with a large staff of unnecessary officers; and the effect of that, together with the sliding scale, had been to cause a saving which amounted. in round numbers, to £600,000, £500,000 of which went into the pockets of the consumers in the shape of reduction of price, while only £100,000 went into the pockets of the shareholders in the shape of increased dividend. Therefore, if this 1218 Bill were to go to a Committee, he trusted that Amalgamation Clauses would be inserted in it. In that case they would be able to re-arrange the source of supply, and, by taking the supply from rivers when flooded, would be able to cheapen the cost of and improve the supply itself. There were other matters and regulations which might also be considered. He did not see why, in regard to future capital, the Auction Clauses should not be imposed upon the Water Companies in the same way as upon the Gas Companies. The outside public had been found ready to pay premiums for the purchase of Water Companies' Stock issued under the terms of an Act of Parliament; and in the case of one London Company which had raised its last capital by tender to the public, it had obtained it upon a premium of £9 per cent. That fact, in itself, appeared to be a very strong argument against what he might call the confiscatory character of the Bill. When the outside public were found ready and willing to pay a high premium upon the Stock issued by the Water Companies, it showed what faith the public attached to the security of Acts of Parliament. He had been somewhat surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary should have taken the course he did on this subject in replying to the deputation which waited upon him recently. It was notorious that the effect of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was to send down the price of Water Stock very considerably; indeed, he seemed to have been playing skittles with the Stocks of the Water Companies, and they went down like nine-pins. Now, that sort of thing was not altogether satisfactory to the public; because, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would only consider for a moment, he must remember, although the effect might be immaterial to a good many people, yet that many of the Water Shareholders were Trustees of poor women and children, and that a lowering of the price of Water Stock meant panic, terror, and a good deal of unnecessary suffering to a large number of persons. He could have wished that when the Home Secretary said what he did in reference to the Water Companies, he had also said a word in favour of keeping Parliamentary faith. He was quite sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman 1219 was one of the last men in that House to desire that Parliament should embark in a career of dishonesty. At the same time, his own view of the Bill was, that if it. were allowed by the Government to pass in its present shape it would be a distinct act of public dishonesty; and it would inflict a deadly blow upon Joint Stock enterprize, and show the public what little reliance was to be placed on the authority of an Act of Parliament. As to the Water Companies, they were spoken of out-of-doors as rogues, robbers, and cheats, and all sorts of hard names were applied to them. They were public servants whose duties and remuneration were specified and fixed by an Act of Parliament. If they neglected their duties they were amenable to the law; but as long as they performed them they were entitled to the remuneration which was secured to them by Act of Parliament. In the Paper which had been circulated to hon. Members by the Corporation of London, it was admitted that there ought to be a remunerative rate secured to every Company, and that no price should be fixed for water which would be incompatible with their earning a remunerative interest upon their outlay. He wanted to know from the hon. and learned Recorder (Sir Thomas Chambers) what was the remunerative interest? What was the hon. and learned Member going to fix as remunerative interest? If he was prepared to give a remunerative interest, let him concede the remunerative interest provided by the different Acts of Parliament, and there could then be no doubt upon the matter. He (Colonel Makins) had placed upon the Paper an Instruction, which he proposed to move if the Bill were read a second time. He should, however, oppose the second reading; but if the Bill were read a second time, then he should move his Instruction, because it was exactly in accordance with the course taken in regard to the Gas Companies in 1868.
§ MR. FIRTH
confessed that he had been somewhat interested in hearing one observation which had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member who had just eat down. The hon. and gallant Member had absolutely accused the Corporation of the City of London of having commenced a career of public dishonesty. That was a very hard term to apply to a Body so ancient in its history, and with 1220 such large claims upon the public regard at the present time. Nevertheless, the hon. and gallant Member had not been deterred from making that suggestion. Now, he (Mr. Firth) confessed that the position of a Metropolitan Member in the presence of a Bill of this kind was one of very considerable difficulty, although it could not be viewed without a certain amount of satisfaction. It was a matter which could not be regarded without a certain amount of satisfaction to find the Water Companies and the Corporation of London tilting at each other. There was some chance that, under such circumstances as these, the honest people of London were likely at last to come by their own. However, when they had a proposition like this put before them, they ought to consider it upon its merits, quite irrespective of the parties who put it before them; and, as the measure itself did not propose to give any increased power to a Body which was said to have a jurisdiction only over one square mile of the area affected, he thought they were in a position to examine the question from a more impartial; and independent point of view than would otherwise have been the case. The Bill contained three main propositions. One was that the Shares of the Company should be put up at auction in the event of any proposed increase of capital, and he took that principle to be accepted by the House, seeing that it had already been adopted in the case of the Gas Companies as a proper one. With respect to the proposition that the annual value should be taken to mean the rateable value, that was merely confirming what had already been decided by the House of Lords. The third proposal was to supply water by meter. That was altogether a different matter; and if the decision of the House, on passing the second reading, were to affirm the principle that the supply of water was to be distributed by meter, he thought their difficulties would be greater than they were. He took it, however, that if the Bill were read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, all questions upon matters of detail would be carefully inquired into. The hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) spoke of the Bill as a measure of confiscation; but it was suggested that the Corporation of London had power to provide a water supply themselves, be- 1221 cause there was no monopoly in the matter; and in that case the Corporation would be entitled to say that the public should be charged not even 6d. per 1,000 gallons, but that they should have a supply for nothing, if the City authorities chose. That argument was met by the hon. and learned Recorder for the City of London by the observation—"Why should you pay more for water than you receive in return?" It was competent for any householder to go without water altogether. ["No!"] The condition of the law was this at the present moment—that if a man took the water he must pay for it on the annual value of his house. If a man put down a pump in his own garden, and obtained water, he would be entitled to go without a supply from the Water Companies. He did not wish, however, to enter into any controversy upon that point. All he would say was that if he were to put down a pump in his own garden, he had no doubt that he would be able to get water, and to do without the present water supply; but probably he would not be willing to drink the water he got. Therefore, if a man were able to go without water altogether, he was not bound to pay the charges of the Water Companies; but if he did take it, then he was bound to pay the rates which they were entitled to charge by law. He might mention that a right hon. Friend of his—a former First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Ayrton)—would, under this Bill, have his water rate very considerably reduced; but yet his right hon. Friend considered the Bill to be a measure of confiscation. For his own part, he (Mr. Firth) was glad to see these questions taken in hand. To-day it was the Water Companies; to-morrow it would be the Corporation themselves. The Water Companies were to-day proposed to be delivered over to the tender mercies of Parliament for consideration; to-morrow the Water Companies would probably help the House to deliver over the Corporation of London; and he looked upon the prospect, either from the one side or the other, with the utmost satisfaction. On the whole, he thought it would be advisable to read the Bill a second time, in order that it might be referred to a Select Committee, and he trusted to such a Committee as that which was suggested by the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W.- 1222 H. Smith). Such a Committee would fully consider the question, and he hoped that such a consideration would not be excluded as that made public by the analyst of the Local Government Board—namely, that five-sixths of the supply of water in the Metropolis were more or less impregnated with sewage matter. He thought a statement of that kind should have far greater weight than the opinion of a Director of a Water Company that the water supply of the Metropolis was the purest that had ever been furnished for a great community. Unfortunately, the Water Companies undertook to supply pure water, and altogether failed to do it. However, the purity of the water, and the necessity of providing a supply at constant pressure for extinguishing fires, were questions with many others for the future. There was, however, one question which he wished to put to the Speaker on a matter of Order. He found in Sir Thomas Erskine May's book upon the Practice and Procedure of the House of Commons a reference to the votes of Members who were interested in Private Bills. Sir Thomas Erskine May alleged that the votes of such Members had been frequently disallowed. He gave many illustrations, and he (Mr. Firth) ventured to think that those illustrations applied to the position of many Members of the House on the present occasion who occupied the position of Directors of Water Companies. He had the highest regard for their personal honour and integrity; but in their official capacity as Directors of Water Companies he entertained some doubt whether they were entitled to cast their votes on this occasion against the interests of the public.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question alluded to by the hon. and learned Member could only be properly raised after the Division has been taken, when it will be for the House to allow or disallow any of the votes which have been given.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I hope the Lord Mayor (Mr. R. N. Fowler) and his Colleagues the Aldermen, who have found their way into this House, will feel happy at the turn which the debate has taken, and especially at the speech which has just been delivered. The raison d' être of the position of the Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen 1223 of the City of London, and of their presence in this House, is that they are bound to be the rigid and unbending defenders of the rights of property; and when they cease to hold that position I think they will cease to fulfil any position of usefulness in this House. The Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen, who represent the City of London in this House, must feel happy and delighted at the support they have received from the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth). It has certainly not been a friendly support, but is rather impelling them forward in their reckless and disastrous career by something which approaches more of the nature of a hick. I wish now to draw the attention of the House to two points which involve matters of principle. I think the speeches which have already been made have had more reference to questions of detail, which might properly be sifted in Committee, than to those questions of principle which should be considered upon the second reading. What I wish now to draw the attention of the House to is unquestionably a matter of principle, and it is a sentence in a document which has been forwarded to hon. Members by the Corporation of London in support of the second reading of this Bill. In the third paragraph of that statement—about the middle of it—the Corporation of London anonymously state that—They have not, however, failed to recognize that sanitary requirements demand that water should he used without stint; and that it is necessary that the wealthier consumers should, by paying an enhanced price, cheapen the cost of water to their poorer neighbours, and encourage them to use it freely.Now, is the Lord Mayor aware that he and his brother Aldermen have put forward in this printed document the wildest Socialistic doctrine that, without any exception, I have ever heard enunciated on any platform in this country—even by Mr. Henry George? Nothing could exceed the extravagance of the Socialism contained in that sentence. Has the Lord Mayor ever heard of a graduated Income Tax? Has he ever studied the principles upon which such a tax is advocated? and, if so, is he aware that what is proposed in that sentence is nothing more than a graduated Water Tax? If he has studied the principles of a graduated Income Tax, 1224 and will kindly apply those principles to this sentence of the statement which he has circulated among the Members of this House, I shall be obliged if he will explain, without loss of time, how he—as the head of the Corporation of London, supported by his brother Aldermen—recommends Parliament to legislate upon such principles? Before I leave this precious document I should like to show to the House its fallacious and, if I may say so, its hypocritical character. Having set forth the Socialistic doctrine—It is necessary that the wealthier consumers should, by paying an enhanced price, cheapen the cost of water to their poorer neighbours, and to encourage them to use it freely,in a further sentence the Corporation go on to say that—It is desirable that the present sources of supply should be economized by its being made to the interest of the consumer to see that the water is not wasted.Thus, in the first place, you propose to adopt the Socialistic principles of Mr. Henry George in order to encourage the use of water freely; and, in the second place, you propose to establish stringent regulations in regard to the use of water under the pretence of preventing waste. So much for this document put forward by the Corporation of London, which I hope the House will treat at its proper value. But this Bill goes much further. It proposes to deal with landed estates. It proposes, in Section 18 of the Bill, that—The rents and profits derived by any Company from any landed estate, houses, or property, although the same be not now directly used for, or be not now directly connected with, their water supply, shall, after payment thereof of all charges and outgoings and expenses of management affecting or payable in respect of the same from time to time, be carried to the credit of the undertaking of such Company, and shall form part of and be included in the profits of the undertaking of such Company, and the profits of the undertaking of any such Company (including such rents and profits as aforesaid) to be divided among the shareholders of such Company in any year shall not exceed the prescribed rate or the prescribed rates upon the paid up capital of such Company.Now, the Corporation of London and the City Companies possess large landed estates, and I hope the Home Secretary, when he introduces his Bill for the better government of London, will remember the principles respecting landed property which are now laid down by the 1225 Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen. Are the Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen, who put forward this Bill, aware that the landed estates which belong to the New River Company are held by a far better title than any of the estates belonging to the City Companies? The New River Company hold their estates under a Charter granted by King James I., in virtue of which the Company purchased land of which the ground rents now amounted to £4,000 a-year, and will in a few years, as the leases fall in, produce something like £50,000 per annum. That is the extent of the landed property which the Corporation of London propose to confiscate. Is the Lord Mayor a ware that no later than the year 1871 Parliament laid down, at a time when a confiscating Government was in Office, that confiscation of this character could not be sanctioned; so that the Corporation is now actually proposing to legislate upon principles which the Government of 1871 would not look at. In 1871 Parliament enacted that nothing in this—the Metropolis Water Act—should be deemed to apply to any landed estate, houses, or property of the New River Company not directly used or connected with their water supply, or shall authorize or empower the auditor to investigate or audit any accounts of the New River Company other than those relating to their water supply; so that this sum of £50,000 a-year, to which the New River Company are entitled under the Charter of James I., and which was confirmed in 1871 by Act of Parliament, the Corporation of London now come forward to confiscate, and to confiscate without compensation. I think the Home Secretary, when he introduces his Bill, will be able to say to the Lord Mayor—"Out of thine own mouth shalt thou be judged." Who, after all, is it who comes to this House with this garb of philanthropy and humanitarianism upon them? If it is not a guilty party, it is an accused party; if it is not a convicted party, then it is a suspected party; and certainly they are not in a position to claim the confidence of Parliament for dealing with the water supply of London. I should like to ask the Lord Mayor how we are to defend the Corporation from the robbery proposed by the Home Secretary when the Corporation are themselves the first to propose the 1226 robbery of other Corporations? How are we to defend from confiscation those who are encouraging the Party opposite in their onward career of confiscation? Those who trample on the rights of others must not be surprised when the time arrives if their own rights are trampled upon. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will not consent to read this Bill a second time, especially on account of the principles which it contains. But if the House does read the Bill a second time, then I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite, when they come to discuss the Bill of the Home Secretary, will remember, and will follow the principles, which have been laid down by the Lord Mayor and his brother Aldermen.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, it is a considerable source of satisfaction to us who sit on this side of the House to find that the guns of the noble Lord who has just spoken should be turned behind him, and that his stern-chasers are directed against the Lord Mayor and the Corporation of London. For my own part, I have always been an admirer and supporter of the Corporation, and I am prepared to give them my support this afternoon. I must, however, decline to enter into this triangular fight—if, indeed, it is not rather more than that in regard to the number of angles concerned—between the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins), the Corporation of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth), and the noble Lord who has just spoken. I am not going to enter into the merits of the Corporation of London from the point of view of any hon. Member who has yet spoken. As far as the Government are concerned, and as far as the House are concerned, what we have to look to is what, in regard to this Bill, are the interests of the people of London. I do not say the interests of the people of London regardless of the rights of property, because the interests of the people of London are, to a large extent, bound up in the rights of property, as are the rights of everybody, and it is the interest of everybody to respect those rights. But what is the situation of the people of London in regard to the water supply of the Metropolis? Everybody knows that the existing system of water supply is most unsatisfactory. I think 1227 we came to this conclusion some years ago, when there was a proposal to purchase the interests of the Water Companies. That showed at that time that the system was not regarded as satisfactory, or such an attempt would not have been made. I will not go hack now, or detain the House by entering into various subjects which have been discussed; but that Committee unanimously came to the conclusion that the state of things then existing ought not to be perpetuated, but that somebody or other representing the people of London should attempt to improve the situation of the inhabitants in respect to the water supply. I should have been very glad if there had been any chance of the Corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works coming to an agreement on this subject. It has been said, and said very truly, that if the Corporation of London represent one square mile only of the Metropolis, there is another Body which represents a much larger area. That Body, however, has refrained from coming forward; and whenever we want to see the two Bodies, who profess to be the representatives of the Metropolis, acting together in accord, we find either that the Metropolitan Board is not able to support the policy of the Lord Mayor and Corporation, or that the Lord Mayor and Corporation are not prepared to support any proposal made by the Metropolitan Board. What do we find to-day? The Lord Mayor has introduced a Bill, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), who generally sits next the Lord Mayor, has on this occasion retired to a less prominent position, and is now sitting as far away from him as possible. [Sir JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG, who was sitting at the other end of the Bench below the Gangway, here got up and took his seat beside the Lord Mayor.] I am glad that I have succeeded in bringing the Lord Mayor and the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works into line; but I believe that the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board is going to give his cordial support to the proposal to reject the Bill. It is unfortunate that whenever the unfortunate people of London require anything to be done for them you will never find these two Bodies, which ought to 1228 act together, acting in co-operation for the advantage and benefit of the Metropolis. That being so, and it being admitted that something ought to be done, I do not think the House ought to reject, on this occasion, the proposal which has been brought forward, and which offers a chance of doing something, simply because there is an objection against the Body from whom the proposal emanates. The Corporation of London have introduced a measure which they state is intended to deal with a grievance which, I venture to say, is felt on all hands by every man in the Metropolis; and their measure proposes, to some extent, to remedy the extreme unfairness of the present system. I am not saying for a moment whether or not the proposal now made by the Corporation of London is the best, or even as good, a proposal for dealing with that grievance; but that there is a grievance in this respect I think nobody will deny. The unanimous voice of the people of London, and, I venture to say, the common sense of everybody who has considered the matter, can have come to but one conclusion—namely, that the existing condition of things ought not, and cannot, continue. Then, if it is to be altered, the hon. Member who spoke on behalf of the shareholders of the Water Companies—the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins)—said very fairly that he did not object to a Regulation Bill so long as the Bill was a fair one. At all events, this is a Regulation Bill. It proposes to introduce a different system which primâ facie is more fair. That is a subject for consideration, and such questions as the objections to which the Bill has been subjected—whether it is more fair towards the consumer than the system that exists, or whether the proposals of the Corporation of London are fair and equitable as regards the Water Companies—assuming that an alteration has to be made, those are questions not for the second reading of the Bill, but for Committee. The Committee would have to consider whether the terms proposed in this Bill are or are not fair towards the shareholders of the Water Companies. I am quite sure that no Committee of the House of Commons would be likely to approve of terms that were inconsistent with the rights of property. 1229 I cannot conceive for a single moment that the House will entertain a proposal to refuse the second reading of a Bill like this. Considering the enormous importance of the question; considering the universal acknowledgment that it is one which ought and must be dealt with; and considering the enormous injustice which the rejection of the second reading of the Bill would inflict upon 4,000,000 of people, I, for one, have not the remotest hesitation in saying, on the part of the Government, that it will receive their cordial support. It is perfectly possible, and almost certain, that fair terms will be arranged by the Committee. Therefore, I will not go into the questions which have been raised about whether, more or less, water will be taken for flushing the drains, or carrying away the sewage matter. Those questions would be thoroughly sifted in Committee; and I do not know why, except for the purpose of having a tilt with the Corporation of London, the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) has taken such deep interest in the matter. Perhaps he may have been acting from instructions which he may have received—from the advice he has been receiving from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie). I do not know whether the hon. Member is or is not a supporter of the Bill; but the House will very likely hear that from him presently. He is, however, a person who has a direct interest in the question, as he has in every question which affects the people of the Metropolis. Looking at this matter from an impartial point of view, and having had occasion to consider it fully for some years past, I have not the slightest doubt that what the House ought to do is to read this Bill a second time, so that it may be discussed by a Select Committee, not an ordinary Committee such as Railway Bills are sent to, but a Committee carefully selected by the Committee of Selection. In that respect I entirely agree with the proposal about to be made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith). I hope the House will not allow itself to be run away with by the fears expressed by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock in reference to the question of landed estates. The proposal in the Bill, as I understand it, 1230 is to treat the Water Companies, in respect of their landed property, exactly the same as every Railway Company is treated—namely, that in respect of the land they hold it should be considered as part of the undertaking. That is the ordinary condition upon which the Railway Companies hold their land. We ought not to regard this matter either from the point of view of the shareholders of the Water Companies, or from the point of view of a like or dislike to the Corporation of London; but we should look at the Bill as one which proposes to do something for the people of London, and as one in which the population of the Metropolis are deeply interested. Under these circumstances, I hope that the Bill will be read a second time.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I will only detain the House for two or three minutes. I am quite prepared to admit that something ought to be done to put the water supply of London upon a better footing; and I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary missed a splendid opportunity of doing this some years ago. However, I will not go into that matter now. The question is, what are we to do with this Bill? The Corporation of London have come to Parliament, and have brought this matter forward as their proposal. Now, I should have supported any Bill brought forward by the Corporation of London, if it had been drawn on proper lines; but I object to the second reading of the present Bill, for one strong reason, because I believe that the main principle—which is to be found in the 4th clause and the 3rd Schedule attached to it—is one of absolute confiscation. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite to say that this must be inquired into by a Committee afterwards; but the Committee will say that the House has sanctioned that principle. Now, the Water Companies have subscribed their money on the faith that Parliament has given them certain rights; and yet it is proposed to sweep away all the Parliamentary statutes, and all the Parliamentary property, by a few words contained in the 4th clause and the 3rd Schedule of the Bill. Now, as regards the case of Railway Companies. No doubt Railway Companies, at the same time, very often charge rates which are objected to; but 1231 would it be just or fair to bring in a Bill to declare that the Railway Companies should only charge Parliamentary rates to every passenger they conveyed? In the case of the Water Companies, they are entitled to make the charge they now make by Parliamentary sanction. Everybody knows—indeed, it was the sole argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that it was of enormous benefit to the 4,000,000 of the people of London that the water should be pure and free. But would it be fair to bring in an Act of Parliament, and say that the article proposed by the Water Companies should be rendered free to the people of the Metropolis, without any compensation to those who have invested their capital in producing it? No; you have already recognized the Parliamentary rights the Gas Companies had, and you have given the Metropolitan Board the power to purchase those rights on fair and reasonable terms. I am opposed strongly to any Bill which contains a proposal for absolute confiscation; but I am ready to support any Bill which respects the Parliamentary rights of the Water Companies. I shall certainly vote against the second reading of the present measure.
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
wished to state, in the first instance, that he was not a member of the Corporation of London, nor had he a share in any of the Water Companies. He was, therefore, satisfied that what he had to say would be regarded as coming from an independent person. The Bill condemned the inequality of charging water rates upon a rateable value, and proposed to change the charge in future to one in accordance with measure by meter. That was said to be confiscation. It was said that payment by meter would be injurious to the Water Companies. Perhaps that might be so, if the Bill were passed on the lines on which it was at present drawn. There was a clause in the Bill which said that the minimum charge would be 12s. a-quarter, with 3s. for the meterage; but whether that was to be the actual charge fixed was clearly a matter that would have to be settled by Committee. It was a simple matter of detail, and it was more than the average price that was now paid by the tenant of a tenement under £20 a-year. Then it was said that the Bill would give to the occupiers of small tenements a 1232 minimum supply of water in order to save money. No doubt anything that tended to minimize the consumption of water ought to be prevented; and if the Bill passed the second reading an Instruction might be given to the Committee to prevent the measure from having such an effect by providing that, in the case of all tenements under £20 a-year, which would cover artizans' dwellings, the charge for water should be a charge on the landlord, and that he should be obliged, within a reasonable period after the passing of the Act, to provide proper measures for securing to the tenants a sufficient and constant supply. In 1871 an Act was passed, declaring that there should be a constant supply; and he thought that they were all agreed that that principle was a desirable one. Why had there not been a constant supply? It was because the people who had had to pay for the water were not interested in saving it. They paid the same price, whether they consumed a larger or a smaller quantity; and, therefore, there had been no demand for a constant supply, because a constant supply would also necessitate in the present system a serious increase of the cost by supplying every house. The hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) had said that the minimum price paid, according to the rateable value, by small consumers, amounted to from 7s. to 8s. a-year.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, what he had stated was that there were thousands of houses which now paid from 8s. to 10s. a-year, which would have to pay 18s. if the Bill passed.
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
asked what the House supposed payment by meter would amount to for a constant supply? He did not intend to express any opinion of his own; but he would give the result of figures in regard to 2,500 houses in Wapping, Hackney, and Whitechapel, which had been supplied until very recently by the East London Companies by meter. The average cost had been about 6s. for each tenement, or about 1½d. per week. For that sum the occupier was supplied with 200 gallons per week, which was found to be sufficient for a family of three or four persons living in a small tenement. What he wanted to impress upon the House was, that when they talked about the benefit of the poor it must be borne in mind that 1233 the supply should be constant, as it ought to be, wherever the Companies now only gave an intermittent supply. The occupier would not be required to put in the necessary appliances for securing a constant supply; but that expense should fall upon the landlord. There was another advantage that would be gained. In small houses there was a too prevalent practice of having the receptacle for water inside the house, and in many instances close to the closet, by which means the water became polluted. If this Bill were passed, and a constant supply were provided, it would necessitate provision for the water being placed outside the dwelling house, and in that way the consumer would not only get a constant and a cheaper supply, but one that was more pure. The Corporation were blamed because they had put 6d. per 1,000 gallons in the Bill; but the amount was printed in italics, so that the Committee might settle the amount and insert a fair price for the public to pay. At the same time, it should be remembered that 6d. per 1,000 gallons was what the Water Companies themselves asked by their present Acts. It would further be loft to the Committee to decide what was a fair price; but lot them, once for all, get rid of the system of one man paying for another, and let the Water Companies be paid for what they supply. At present, they supplied water for flushing the sewers, which was paid for by the Local Authorities; also for cleansing the roads, and for putting out fires. Let those charges be paid by the Local Authorities. Every man should pay for what he had, and should pay a fair price, such as a Select Committee, after a full investigation, would determine. He hoped the House would pass the second reading of the Bill. He thought the Corporation of London had done a great deal of good by bringing before Parliament the question of supplying water to the Metropolis by meter.
§ SIR JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG
said, he had not intended to take any part in the debate, because he had wished to save the time of the House, having already spoken on a water question which he had the honour to bring forward in the House a short time ago. That Bill had already passed the second reading, and was now going into Com- 1234 mittee, notwithstanding the fact that some hon. Friends of his were very anxious to prevent it from getting into Committee. He thought that the memory of the Home Secretary must be somewhat defective, because he (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) had told the House only 10 days ago that the Metropolitan Board of Works, far from not acting up to their duty, had some years ago directed him to be their mouth-piece in bringing in two Bills, one for the purchase of the Water Companies, and the other for establishing an independent supply. As he had stated, one of these Bills had been read a second time; but the other had failed to reach a second reading, on account of the opposition of certain hon. Members who were interested in the question. Under these circumstances, he did not think the Home Secretary was justified in twitting the Metropolitan Board with not being equal to their duties. They always endeavoured to do their duty, and a very onerous duty it was. They had been exposed to many very serious attacks; but he was happy to say that most of the charges made against them, when they came to be sifted, fell to the ground. For himself, personally, he did not care one farthing about them, as long as the Board over which he had the honour to preside worked together harmoniously. He had been Chairman of the Metropolitan Board during a tenure of office of 14 years in succession. He had been sitting quietly in a far corner of the House because he had no wish to trouble it; but after the remarks which had been made in reference to him by the Home Secretary, he had felt bound to get up and explain his views. He would only say, in regard to the appeal made to the Metropolitan Board by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that the Board were not so foolish as to incur an expense of £15,000 in promoting a Bill when they did not know where the money was to come from.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I must say that I do not think the time of the House has been wasted, because there is a most important principle at the bottom of the Bill, and it is the real principle which it appears to me ought to decide the second reading of the Bill. That prin- 1235 ciple is, how far it is competent for this House to vary a Parliamentary bargain? It is a question of vital importance for all towns to know whether powers which have been given by Parliament can be revoked by Parliament without compensation. That is a question which is not only of interest to the inhabitants of the Metropolis as consumers of water, but is of very vital interest to the whole country. I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not in his place, because I noticed that my right hon. and learned Friend, in the answer which he made lately to a deputation which waited upon him, used words which seemed to imply that if Parliament had made an improvident bargain we might revise that bargain. Now, Parliament never does make a bargain except it is more or less of an improvident nature; that is an unfortunate habit that Parliament has. My vote will be determined by the consideration of what the question is which will be submitted to the Committee. If the submission to the Committee is the question of establishing a now arrangement between the consumer and the seller which will be equivalent in value to the old Parliamentary title, then I do not see any objection to this Bill. But if, on the other hand, it is to determine what would be fair and equitable between the consumer and the Water Companies, without regard to the Parliamentary title of the Water Companies, then I should say that that is a question which ought not to be relegated to a Committee, but should be raised on the second reading of the Bill. I therefore wish to ask my hon. and learned Friend the Recorder of London (Sir Thomas Chambers) this question—what is the intention of the promoters of the Bill? Do they intend to cheapen the water supply—a most excellent object if it could be attained, but which might possibly bring the promoters into conflict with rights already conferred by Parliament—or do they intend to introduce a new mode of measuring water, so that the present rights of the Companies shall remain intact?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that, as a direct appeal had been made to him, he felt bound to take notice of it. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had implied, in the first place—indeed, he had directly stated—that he 1236 (Mr. Ritchie) had been the inspirer of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) in the attack he had made on the City of London in reference to this Bill. Now, the Home Secretary might be a very good shot sometimes, but certainly he had missed his mark upon this occasion; because the communication he (Mr. Ritchie) had had with the noble Lord, who was capable, as he need hardly tell the House, of inspiring himself, was upon an entirely different point, and had nothing whatever to do with the Water Question. The right hon. Gentleman had challenged him to express his opinion upon this Bill, and to state what he intended to do. It so happened that his name was one of those which appeared on the back of the Bill; so it was, primâ facie, quite obvious that he should vote for the second reading of it. All he desired to say was this—that when he was asked to put his name on the back of the Bill he gave his consent simply upon a particular point—that the present system of water supply was, in his opinion, not a good system for supplying consumers with water, and he thought the meter system was the better system of the two. But he had not had the remotest idea that anything like confiscation was involved in the Bill. Neither had he the remotest idea of confiscation now. The reason which induced him to put his name on the back of the Bill was, as he had said, that, in his opinion, the meter system was the better system of the two, and that was the only principle he was going to vote for in voting for the second reading of the measure. He considered that the price inserted by the Corporation in the Bill was a totally inadequate price; and he entertained very little doubt that a Committee of the House of Commons would take care, on investigating the provisions of the Bill, that they would not pass any measure which bore upon the face of it the stamp of confiscation. That was all he desired to say in answer to the remarks which had been made by the Home Secretary, and he should certainly vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. WIGGIN
, who spoke amid continuous interruption, said, that he did not often trouble the House; but he considered it necessary that he should do so now. If he did so now it was be- 1237 cause he had made several attempts to rise in order to express his surprise and astonishment that a good old Tory Corporation like that of the City of London should venture to bring in a Bill of this confiscating character. He very much regretted to find that the Home Secretary and the Government were going to vote for the second reading of the Bill. In the interest of the water consumers of London he believed it would be a most unfortunate thing for the measure to be read a second time. It was incredible to him that Parliament should lend its sanction to the introduction of a system which would so largely increase the cost of distributing water; and however the provisions of the present Bill could cheapen the supply to a consumer he could not possibly understand. If they decided upon introducing this system it would be found necessary to expend an enormous amount of capital in the purchase of meters, which were very costly and expensive pieces of machinery. A water meter was very different from a gas meter, which cost only a few shillings; and to supply meters to the consumers of water would entail an enormous expenditure. On these grounds he opposed the Bill; but there was still another ground upon which he considered it unadvisable to pass the second reading—namely, the ground of sanitary improvement. The adoption of a system of supplying water by meter would compel the people very materially to reduce the consumption of water; and he asked the House to recollect what had made London one of the healthiest cities in the world. He had no interest, direct or indirect, in any of the London Water Companies; he had no connection with them in any shape whatever—[Cries of "Agreed!"] Hon. Members might interrupt him as much as they pleased; but he was determined to stay there until midnight, in order to say what he meant to say. He was unacquainted with any Water Director in London, and he had no interest in any Company. But he certainly did not think that the people of London had given full credit to the London Water Companies for the magnificent water supply they now possessed. It was no easy thing to supply 4,000,000 people with a constant supply of good and pure water; and the fact that it was done in so satisfactory a manner reflected the 1238 greatest credit upon the gentlemen who had succeeded in doing it. He had no doubt that the water system of the Metropolis might require alteration in some respects; but, at the same time, let them give credit where credit was due, and he hoped the House would put its foot down firmly in opposition to all schemes of confiscation like this.
§ SIR THOMAS CHAMBERS
said, he only rose to answer a question which had been put by his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) as to what was a fair price. He understood a fair price to mean what, in the estimation of the Select Committee to which the Bill would be referred, would be a fair price as between the Water Companies and the consumers, taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 197: Majority 45.—(Div. List, No. 33.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.
§ MR. FIRTH
Mr. Speaker, I beg to draw your attention to the point of Order that the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope), one of the Tellers for the Noes, who is a Director of a Metropolitan Water Company, and who has a direct pecuniary interest in the Question before the House, has voted in the majority upon the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Vote of Mr. Coope be disallowed."—(Mr. Firth.)
§ MR. SPEAKER
A Motion having been made that the vote of the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) be disallowed.—["No, no!"]—I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to make that Motion—[Mr. FIRTH raised his hat.]—the Question is that the vote of the hon. Member for Middlesex be disallowed. I must, first of all, call upon the hon. Member for Middlesex to rise in his place and make any statement he may please.
§ [Mr. COOPE then withdrew.]
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
I wish, Sir, to call your attention to this point in connection with the question now raised by the hon. and learned Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth). The hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope), as I understand, did not vote at all; his name is not included in the numbers brought up to the Table. I wish to know how that will affect the question? The hon. Member was simply one of the Tellers; therefore his name is not included in the Division List.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member (Mr. Coope) was one of the Tellers in the Division. The Question is that his vote be disallowed.
I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to ask you a question. The Motion is that the vote of the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) be disallowed. That vote is not counted in the number of Noes. I should like, therefore, to know what will be the result in the event of the House deciding that his vote be disallowed; how will the House proceed?—because his name does not appear in the Division List.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The way in which I would put the Question would be that the vote of Mr. Coope be disallowed.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Upon this point I would like to remind the House that the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) has stated from his place in the House that he voted in the late Division in his capacity of Member for a county largely affected by the Bill which was under consideration by the House, and not in the capacity of a Director of a Water Company. The House will see that that statement could only be made by a Representative of a Metropolitan constituency. Of course, it would not be a valid statement if made by any hon. Member unconnected with the Metropolis. I submit that the House should, in justice to the hon. Member, accept his statement, and not cast a needless reflection upon him by disallowing his vote.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I think the question which has been 1240 raised is one upon which it would be a great advantage to the House if we could have the ruling of Mr. Speaker. It would be of great advantage, Sir, to have your ruling as to how far, and under what circumstances, the votes of Members ought to be disallowed. I would also like to ask whether, under the circumstances, the challenge ought not to have been made at the time that the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) was named as a Teller; because the difficulty which has been suggested by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) is certainly a difficulty which would be very serious if we were told that the vote was to be disallowed, when, in point of fact, the vote has not been counted. I think the objection ought to have been taken at the time the hon. Member was named by you, Sir, as a Teller. I should be glad to know what your ruling is.
§ MR. SPEAKER
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I have to state that, according to precedent, the objection was taken at the proper time. With reference to the larger question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I have to state that there is a distinction, which it would be well for the House to bear in mind, between Private and Public Bills—Bills, that is to say, of a private nature, and Bills which involve questions of great public policy. I am quite aware that, technically and in form, this Bill is a Private Bill, but it involves great questions of public policy; and I can find in the Journals no instance of a vote having been disallowed on a Public Bill. There are instances of votes having been challenged; but in no instance has a vote been disallowed. Under these circumstances, it will be for the House to decide what amount of direct and personal interest the hon. Member for Middlesex may have in the question, and whether his vote ought to be allowed or disallowed.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
May I venture to mention to the House what I believe is a fair precedent in this matter? It occurred no longer ago than the last Session of Parliament. The question before the House, if I remember right, was the confirmation of a contract made between the Post Office and the London and North-Western Railway Company. The vote of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member 1241 for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) was challenged upon that occasion because he was one of the Directors of the London and North-Western Railway Company. The result was that the vote was allowed.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Surely it must be shown, if the vote of a Member upon a Private Bill is to be disallowed, that the Member in question has a predominant and personal interest in the matter under consideration. If the House, on a great public question, which this is, proceeds to disallow the votes of leading members of large Companies—Companies which provide essentials of life to large communities—I wonder where the process is to stop. Shall we come to this—that on any question affecting the produce of land large landowners are to have their votes disallowed? I do not Bee where the process is to stop. It appears to me that this Motion has been made without reason assigned. I await the explanation of the hon. Mover.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I cannot wonder that my hon. and learned Colleague (Mr. Firth) should have made this Motion, because the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) has spoken on two occasions in this House as Chairman of a Water Company, and has on each of these occasions stated that he was Chairman of one of the Water Companies, and that he was largely interested in the Company. I cannot, under such circumstances, wonder that this Motion has been raised. But, as my hon. and learned Friend has gained his object by calling attention to the matter, I would recommend him not to divide the House.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Mr. Speaker, on the Question that the Motion of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth) be allowed to be withdrawn, I wish to say a few words. Hon. Members on these Benches are determined that the Motion shall be put to a Division. Now, Mr. Speaker, I wish to respectfully point out why it is necessary that the House should pronounce an opinion on this question. In the very lucid exposition you have just made of the law of the House on this matter, you pointed out that this Bill was partially of a public character; but you did not traverse the 1242 general principle that, according to the immemorial usage of this House, established by several precedents, no Member has a right to give a vote on any question in which he is directly or pecuniarily interested. I wish to submit to the House that the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) is directly and pecuniarily interested in the question on which he has given a vote. One reason urged against the Bill, alike by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth), was that it interfered with the price which was charged by these Water Companies for their water. If this Bill had passed, it would probably, according to the opinion of those who opposed it, have seriously reduced the price which was charged for the water supplied by these Companies; and, therefore, it would have depreciated the property of the Companies. Does anyone suppose that, if this Bill had been read a second time, the shares of the Companies affected would not have fallen very considerably to-morrow, and that the dividends which would have been declared by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Coope) and the other Directors of the Companies at the next half-yearly meetings would not have been seriously diminished? If the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Coope) be the Chairman of one of the Water Companies affected, as he says he is, we may reasonably assume he has a large number of shares. If he has a large number of shares, and if his shares would have been depreciated in value by the passing of this Bill, I have, I think, clearly proved to the House what he has a most direct and large pecuniary interest in the question on which the House has voted. For these reasons, I and my hon. Friends are determined to test the feeling of the House upon this question.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I think the argument of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) proves a great deal too much; because, according to his argument, anybody who is a shareholder, or in any way interested in the Water Companies, would be precluded from giving a vote. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) holds a prominent position in connection with the Water Companies; and it 1243 was in consequence of that, no doubt, that he took the leading part he has done in advocating the case, not of himself personally, but of those whose Representative he is. I do not know what my hon. Friend's personal interest in the Company may be—very probably it is not so large as that of many others for whom he is Trustee, and on account of whom he is bound to make the best case he can when their interests are assailed. I think that the course which is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and which the hon. and learned Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth) acquiesces in—namely, the withdrawal of this Motion, after having called attention to the vote of my hon. Friend (Mr. Coope), is a course which the House will entirely approve; and I shall be very sorry if the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Firth) is prevented from taking the step which he himself is ready to take, and which, I think, will be in accordance with the general feeling of the House.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, I wish to ask you whether the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth), having moved that the vote of the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Coope) be disallowed, is not bound to tell in the Division?
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 235: Majority 199.—(Div. List, No. 34.)