HC Deb 21 July 1885 vol 299 cc1381-93

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the case of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Bill [Lords'], Standing Order 235 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Forster.)


said, he thought the House would do well not to suspend the Standing Order on the present occasion, or, at any rate, not to read the Bill a second time. The Standing Order was of a very simple and reasonable character, and why there should be such a hurry in regard to the Bill he was at a loss to understand. The Standing Order was this— Three clear days' notice in writing shall be given by the agents of the Bill to the clerks in the Private Bill Office of the day proposed for the second reading of every Private Bill; and no such notice should be given until the day after that in which the Bill has been ordered to be read a second time. That was a very simple condition, and it interposed a very limited obstacle to the progress of any measure which could not be defended upon its merits; and why the ordinary course had not been pursued on this occasion he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) did not very well see. The Bill, on its merits, would deserve very serious consideration before the House would be induced to pass it. In view of the prospect of fresh legislation dealing with the whole question of the water supply of the Metropolis, it became a very serious question whether it was right to enable any of these public ventures and vested interests to increase the capital by which, under existing statutes, they wore unable to secure so high a rate of interest as those which the Metropolitan Water Companies and Gas Companies were now enjoying. The proposal involved in the present Bill was to increase the capital of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company by an additional sum of no less than £250,000. He would submit that it was inexpedient to grant to this Company or to any other Company facilities for increasing their capital stock in the ventures already sanctioned by Parliament, especially when it could not be proved that a further expenditure was necessitated by any real public want; and, further, when it could be proved that clear injustice would be done to certain private interests affected by the measure. He would submit that there was no necessity whatever for the construction of the new works now proposed. It was stated by the Company that the new works were necessary in order to enable them to afford a better water supply to parts of the parish of Wimbledon, which were not yet supplied by this Company. Now, the whole of that parish was included in the supply provided by the Lambeth Water Works Company, and a considerable part of the parish was already supplied by that Company. He was also assured that the Lambeth Company were in a position to give a constant supply, at high pressure, to the rest of the parish of Wimbledon from their existing water works. The Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company had obtained power in an Act to supply the same parish with water last year; but, on that occasion, they made no application for the construction of any additional works. They appeared to have discovered since that it was absolutely necessary to construct works, of which, at the time they obtained their Act, no indication whatever was given; and for that purpose they now proposed to increase their capital to the extent, as he had said before, of £250,000. The original proposal, under the Bill, was to take a certain portion of land, consisting of a messuage and gardens in private occupation in the neighbourhood of Forest Hill; but, in consequence of the opposition of the owners of that property, the original plan had been considerably modified. It was found that the Company would be obliged to purchase, probably, the whole of that private property if they had persisted with their original scheme. That scheme would have enabled them, so they said, to store some 9,000,000 gallons of water for use. But in consequence of the opposition to that part of their Bill they modified their plans; and they now proposed not to take any portion of that particular property, but to take a piece of land immediately outside of it, which would, of course, very materially affect the value of the property; and the storage power, which, under the modified scheme, they would have, so far from being equal to 9,000,000 gallons, would not provide for 1,000,000 gallons. He believed that the storage power, under the present scheme, would amount to something like 750,000 gallons. It was perfectly obvious that if the Company were right in their original contention, that it was necessary to have this large tank or reservoir given, so that they might have the control of 9,000,000 gallons daily in this particular place, the present scheme, under which they would be able to supply or store less than 1,000,000 gallons, could not, by any means, meet the requirements of the case. The original position of the Company, therefore, was altogether inconsistent with that which they had now taken up. The public necessity, which was the ground upon which they came forward in the first instance with their original scheme, was, according to their present admission, proved to have been very considerably overrated. But, in view of the fact that the Lambeth Water Company were quite capable of supplying the district aimed at with whatever water was required for the present, it was a matter which appeared to him very much open to doubt whether any new provision on the part of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company was required at all. But, suppose they were allowed to carry out their present scheme, there could not be the slightest doubt that they would have to come to Parliament hereafter for further powers under a new Bill to enable them to take in the adjoining pieces of land and include them in their works. The land the Company now sought to take would form the thin end of the wedge; and, ultimately, they would be able indirectly to carry out that very serious injury to private property which they were prevented from doing when they tried to make a direct attack upon it. That, however, was only the private interests' aspect of the question. The public interests were very much more important, if this Company were to be allowed to increase their capital now by so large a sum as £250,000. Surely, if that would have been sufficient to enable them to take the larger piece of land which they originally sought to acquire, it could not, under the modified scheme, be necessary at all to increase their capital to so large an extent, especially when it was borne in mind that the whole question of the water supply of the Metropolis must be dealt with shortly; and one important element in dealing with it would be the enormous amount of public money which it would be necessary to advance in order to buy up vested interests. The passing of the present Bill would inevitably entail a considerably enhanced charge upon the public when the powers of the Water Companies were taken over; and he, therefore, asked the House to refuse its sanction to the present scheme, because, by so doing, they would ultimately save a very considerable charge upon the public purse. If he were in Order he would move, as an Amendment to the Motion before the House, that the Bill be read a second time on that day three months.


said, that he wished also to oppose the second reading of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Bill, but on somewhat different grounds from those which had been urged by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Arthur O'Connor). His own feeling was that the proposal of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company in regard to the supply of Wimbledon, with a reservoir placed on high ground for that purpose, was one that might very advantageously affect the value of property in the neighbourhood. He had no opposition whatever to make to that part of the Bill. Anyone acquainted with the condition of the London works of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company would be able to understand the objection of the Wandsworth Board of Works, who represented 250,000 inhabitants of the Metropolis, to some of the proposals of this Bill. Hon. Members would be aware that, as the train proceeded out of the Victoria Station, shortly after crossing the Thames, they came to a number of large sheets of water, which formed the filter beds of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company. But on the right-hand side, in immediate proximity to those reservoirs, were the gigantic dust heaps of Mr. Covington, where nearly the whole of the dust from the West End of London was deposited and sorted. The Wandsworth Board of Works had felt for a long time that the proximity of these dust heaps to the supply of drinking water, which the people they represented had to drink, formed a most palpable nuisance; but the attempts which had hitherto been made to get rid of these dust heaps had unfortunately failed. In 1872, the London, Brighton, and South Coast Rail-way Company, to whom the dust heaps belonged, were proceeded against for a nuisance; but the magistrates held that dust was in the nature of an article in the process of manufacture, and that these premises and dust heaps were necessary to enable the manufacturer to carry on his business. These dust heaps were in close proximity to Battersea Park; but if they had been in the immediate vicinity of Hyde Park he was satisfied that they would not have been allowed to remain there for 24 hours, and very few Members of that House would be prepared to support their retention. The Southwark and Vauxhall Company had no control over the dust heaps; but what they undertook, at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board of the late Government (Sir Charles W. Dilke), was to introduce, in the Bill now under discussion, a clause giving them compulsory powers to acquire the dust heaps. The Company did introduce a clause to that effect in their Bill; but it was not a clause to which they were particularly attached. They gave it an exceedingly luke-warm support, and the learned counsel, who appeared on behalf of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, spoke of the dust heaps as being merely a sentimental grievance. It was hardly to be wondered at that, under those circumstances, the House of Lords struck the clause out. No one acquainted with the facility with which water was polluted could deny that dust heaps in the vicinity of reservoirs containing water for domestic consumption might have a most serious and injurious effect on the water itself. The Company, he believed, relied upon the fact that the filtering process which the water would undergo would deprive it of any injurious effect which might be produced upon it by the contiguity of these dust heaps. Surely it was hardly necessary in these days to point out that the germs of fever which were often contained in polluted water were not of a nature to be removed by filtration. The minute organisms which produced fevers and other diseases could not be removed by filtration; and, therefore, it was a most objectionable thing to have reservoirs and filter beds in the immediate vicinity of dust heaps. The reservoirs employed for holding the drinking water of the Metropolis ought to be in some place where the water could be stored in a perfectly pure state, and so distributed. He did not think it was at all an exaggeration to say, having regard to the condition of two European countries in our immediate neighbourhood, that there was serious danger of an outbreak of cholera in this country. A patient might be seized with cholera in the streets. That was a circumstance which often happened in visitations of cholera. If such a patient were to vomit upon the pavement, and the vomit were to dry up, it would be carted away with the dust of the street, and from those very dust heaps there would be danger of its finding its way into the water stored for drinking purposes. By this means a serious outbreak of cholera might be brought about. What, he thought, the Water Company ought to do was one of two things. If it were possible, they ought to cover in the filter beds, so that it would be impossible for dust from these dust heaps to find its way into, and injuriously affect, the purity of the water. Probably that would be a very difficult business; the Company maintained that it could not be done; and that in regard to the large quantity of water collected in this locality, it was somewhat unreasonable to ask them to cover in the filter beds. If that were so, he (Sir Trevor Lawrence) thought the Company should agree to re-introduce the clause which had been struck out of the Bill by the House of Lords, so that they might be able to take over the dust yard at Battersea, and thus prevent it from continuing to contaminate the water. It was nothing less than a great public scandal that a large collection of dust should be allowed to be made in close proximity to the water stored for the consumption of 250,000 of the inhabitants of the Metropolis. He hoped that, under these circumstances, the obligation would be imposed upon the Company, if the Bill were allowed to be read a second time, of dealing with this serious evil. The clause which had been struck out provided that, subject to the provisions of the Act, the Company might acquire and compulsorily enter upon this piece of land at Battersea Park, now used as a dust yard. Then followed in the clause a full description of the land in question. He understood that the promoters of the Bill were not unwilling to assent to the re-introduction of this clause; and, if so, his opposition to the Bill, as its provisions now stood, would be in a great measure removed, because he was quite prepared to admit that, however great the objection might be to the formation of reservoirs in a great City like London, it was altogether impossible to place upon the Water Company the obligation of removing the filter beds which already existed. That subject might have to be considered hereafter; but, so far as he was concerned, he would not oppose the further progress of the Bill if the Company would agree to revive the clause which had been struck out by the House of Lords.


said, he thought that every proposal which came from a Water Company ought to be looked upon with very great suspicion. This Water Company brought in their Bill before the House of Lords. The Metropolitan Board of Works, as the guardians of the interests of the ratepayers of the Metropolis, appeared before the Committee of that House, and proposed certain alterations in the provisions of the Bill. Those alterations were opposed by the Company, and the House of Lords declined to concede the points demanded by the Metropolitan Board of Works, or by the representatives of the ratepayers. He thought there were two points raised by the Metropolitan Board. The first was this. The Water Company were, as was well known, allowed to earn, without any reduction of rates, a dividend of 10 per cent. on their capital; but in the case of this Company, for a considerable time they did not earn 10 per cent, and, therefore, they maintained that they had to charge for the deficiencies of past dividends—that whereas, during a period of 30 years, they had not made 10 per cent, all the excesses they now obtained over 10 per cent should be devoted to making up past deficiencies. Practically, if this principle were allowed, the public would never get any sort of advantage in the reduction of the price of water when a Water Company came to earn more than 10 per cent. The proposal of the Metropolitan Board of Works in this case was that if the Company succeeded in obtaining permission to raise more capital, they should, instead of carrying the deficiencies in past dividends over for 30 years, only carry them over for three years. This proposition was rejected by the House of Lords. The second objection of the Metropolitan Board was to the mode in which the Water Company proposed to raise the new capital. It was proposed to be raised by debentures at 4½ per cent. Now, it was well known, as a matter of fact, that they could raise the capital at par at 4 per cent, and that would have been more in accordance with the provisions of their general Act. Finding that the premium at which the shares would be issued—a premium, he believed, of 15 per cent.— would in no way benefit the public, although they would in some way benefit the shareholders of the Water Company, the Metropolitan. Board, as the natural guardians of the ratepayers of London, proposed two clauses. It was urged that the Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee of the House of Commons, where all these matters could be more properly discussed. But everybody knew that it cost a considerable sum of money to discuss these Bills before a Committee either of this or the other House of Parliament. The Company refused the fair and legitimate terms offered to them by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and were sustained in their refusal by the Committee of the House of Lords. He, therefore, did not think that the Metropolitan Board, who had already appeared before one Committee, ought to be called upon to appear before another, and to expend more of the ratepayers' money in Parliamentary and legal procedure. It ought to be understood by these Companies that when they came forward with a Bill, they must, in the first instance, come to terms with the Metropolitan Board of Works, or their Representatives, and obtain the assent of the Board to their proposals. If they did not, then let the House of Commons always refuse to read their Bills a second time. For those reasons he hoped his hon. Friend, who objected to the suspension of the Standing Order, would go to a division, and that the House would refuse to allow the Bill to be read a second time.


said, that if the promoters of the Bill would consent to the re-introduction of the clause creating compulsory powers to purchase the dust yard he should not oppose the measure; but if the clause were not re-introduced he should oppose it. It was a matter which had long been under the consideration of the Local Government Board. As far back as 1872 a Report was made by one of the Inspectors of the Board, showing that this dust yard was a nuisance of great magnitude, and that it was dangerous to the health of the Metropolis. The Inspector stated that the plot of ground in question was used for the storage of dust collected from St. George's Hanover Square, and other parts of the West End; that after it was deposited small microscopic particles were constantly blown from the yard to the filter beds of the Water Company; and that some of the particles so blown, being of organic origin, could not be removed by filtration. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour), under these circumstances, thought it would be his duty to oppose the Bill, unless the Water Company gave the promise asked for, that the clause rejected by the House of Lords should be re-inserted in the Bill.


said, that although the Bill had been attacked all along the line by the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor), who had moved the rejection of it, the question before the House had now narrowed itself to the re-insertion of the clause giving the Water Company power to acquire compulsorily the land now used as a dust yard. The position of the Company in regard to that matter was this—they had bona fide intended to carry out that undertaking, and had introduced a clause in the Bill which went before the House of Lords. But the clause was opposed by the Railway Company, and thrown out by the House of Lords; and, therefore, the Company had no power of introducing it in the Bill as it now stood before the House of Commons. If, however, the Local Government Board would send down a clause to the Committee, the Water Company would not object to it, but were prepared to leave the matter to be dealt with by the Committee. He took that to be the practice of the House in regard to these matters, and it was the limit of any pledge which could be given. He would not enter into the questions which had been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Surrey (Sir Trevor Lawrence), or that which had been raised by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), in regard to back dividends. The last was a point which had been settled by the House of Lords, who decided upon following former precedents in similar cases. The Water Company, in that respect, were not initiating anything new; and, considering the formal pledge he was able to give on their behalf, he thought the House would do well to allow the Bill to be sent upstairs to a Committee, where every point which had been raised could be dealt with. As he had explained, it was impossible for the Company to insert a clause in the Bill of their own Motion; but they would offer no objection if a clause was proposed to the Committee. He trusted that, under these circumstances, the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time.


said, there were other questions involved in the Bill besides that of the dust heaps. There wore two most important matters which had been noticed by his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—namely, the effect of the clauses of the Bill which related to the raising of capital. It would, he thought, be apparent to any hon. Member of the House that some £600,000 of back dividends ought not to be kept back, because it might be possible hereafter for the Municipal Authority of the Metropolis to buy up this Company. He also objected, on behalf of the Metropolitan Board of Works, to the Auction Clauses of the Bill, which provided that the debenture stock, created under the powers of the Bill, when offered for sale by auction or tender, and not sold, should be offered to the holders of ordinary shareholders of stock. The ground of objection was, that this Water Company ought not to have the power of issuing fresh dividends, of which the shareholders would obtain the full and entire benefit. If there was any profit realized, beyond the interest upon the borrowed capital, it ought to be put into a fund, so that, when the time came for the Municipal Authorities to buy up the concern, this additional capital should not become an extra charge. He would only add that the Metropolitan Board of Works had done all in their power to fight out the matter in the interests of the ratepayers; and seeing that the Company had not felt it right to accede to the proposals of the Metropolitan Board, or in any way to help them, he hoped the House would throw out the Bill, which he certainly did not think was worthy of a second reading.


said, he thought that very scant justice had, by some of the speakers who had already addressed the House, been done to the promoters of the Bill. He (Mr. M'Coan) was satisfied that no injustice had been done intentionally; but hon. Members had passed over all the evidence which had been laid before the House of Lords on the matter. What were the actual facts of the case? They had either been ignored altogether, or incorrectly submitted to the House. The chief objection to the Bill, as he understood from the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour), was to the proximity of the dust yard to the filter beds of the Company at Battersea. As a matter of fact, the Committee of the House of Lords heard evidence upon that question from experts and medical men; and the effect of that evidence was that the proximity of the dust heaps to the filter beds had no injurious effect upon the water supply, because the waterworks in the neighbourhood of the dust yard were not reservoirs, but filter beds. Important evidence to that effect was given by Dr. Tidy and other eminent men; and it was conclusively proved that such particles of dust as passed from the dust heaps to the filter beds did no injury whatever to the water. That evidence was accepted by the Committee of the House of Lords, after due examination and consideration, and conviction was brought home to the minds of the Committee that the Bill ought to be passed. The result was that the Committee yielded to the objection raised by the London and Brighton Railway Company, who strongly opposed the clause which gave compulsory powers to take the dust yard, and made it a condition of passing the Bill that the clause should be struck out. The Company, so far as they were themselves concerned, went to the House of Lords with a clause asking for power to buy up this dust yard; but the Lords, of their own Motion, at the instance of the London and Brighton Railway Company, refused to pass it. He (Mr. M'Coan), therefore, thought that it was somewhat late in the day to make the omission of that clause a ground of opposition to the progress of the Bill in the House of Commons. An objection had been taken by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) that the Bill did not contain the ordinary Auction Clauses. Surely the hon. and gallant Baronet could hardly have read the Bill, or he (Mr. M'Coan) was quite sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have been too candid to have concealed from the House that a clause tantamount to the usual Auction Clauses was inserted in the Bill. Clause 24 of the Bill provided that— The Company may, for the purposes of this Act, and for the general purposes of their undertaking, subject to the provisions of Part II. of the Companies Clauses Act, 1863, raise any additional capital not exceeding in the whole two hundred and fifty thousand pounds by the creation and issue of debenture stock at par, and may attach to such stock any fixed and perpetual interest not exceeding the rate per centum per annum at which the Company may from time to time be enabled to issue the same at par by public auction or by tender in such manner at such times and subject to such conditions as the Company shall from time to time determine. There was no premium, therefore, which would go into the pockets of the shareholders of the Company, as was suggested; but the debentures would be issued at par, not to shareholders only, but to the public at large. It was unfair to attempt to impose upon those who had not read the Bill, and were not familiar with the evidence taken by the House of Lords, that this was a job to issue new stock for the advantage of the shareholders. Although he had, of course, no authority for saying so, he believed that the promoters of the Bill, while they could not, in good faith to the Committee of the House of Lords or to the Brighton Railway Company, volunteer to re - introduce the clause which the Lords had struck out, in regard to the acquisition of the dust yard, were perfectly ready, if the House of Commons made it a condition of the passing of the second reading, that the clause should be revived, to consent to the whole question being remitted to the Committee upstairs to hear evidence upon it, and decide whether the clause should be inserted or not. They could not offer to restore the clause themselves, because it would be an act of bad faith, not only towards the Brighton Company, but towards the House of Lords. He submitted that the most equitable course would be to read the Bill a second time, and to remit it to a Committee upstairs in the usual way, leaving it to them to say what should become of the question of the dust yard.

Question put.

The House divided: —Ayes 71; Noes 119: Majority 48.—(Div. List, No. 235.)

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