Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the case of the Southwark and Vauxhall" Water Bill [Lords'], Standing Order 204 be dispensed with."—(Sir Charles Forster.)
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, that this was the same Bill in regard to which the House had arrived at a decision on the previous Tuesday. On that occasion it was proposed to suspend Standing Order 235; but the House rejected the Motion, and by so doing virtually refused to read the Bill a second time. He had been desirous on that occasion of moving that the Bill be read a second time upon that day three months; but in consequence of the form in which the proposal was placed upon the Paper he was precluded from moving that Amendment, and, consequently, the Bill could not at that stage be finally disposed of, although the House certainly discussed the merits of the scheme at some length before it decided not to suspend the Standing Order on Tuesday. The result, technically, was that the promoters were not at that time able to propose the second reading; but they now proposed to return to the attack, and, as a first step in their further action, they invited the House to suspend Standing Order 204, which related only to the question of Notice as between three and seven days. Of course, that was comparatively a minor matter; but, after the decision of the House the other day, he thought they would be perfectly justified in refusing to assent to any proposal in regard to this Bill at all, which ought justly to be regarded as one which had been rejected as a Bill by the House on the second reading. He understood that he could not move any Amendment to this particular Motion; but he certainly objected to the Motion itself.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
said, he desired to explain how the matter stood. He had no interest whatever in the Bill, and he was only acting for the right hon. Baronet the Chairman of Ways and 1611 Means, who had charge of Private Bills, and who was absent on that occasion from indisposition. He wished simply to point out that this proceeding was solely to enable the Bill to be submitted to the House again and to be tried upon its merits on Monday next. The Standing Order required that it should be brought forward not more than seven days after the first reading; but that was impossible now, owing to what took place the other day. As to the merits of the Bill, he had nothing whatever to do with them; but he thought he might say that, as far as the Private Bill Office was concerned, his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means saw no objection to this proceeding, and, as he had said, the House would have an opportunity of discussing the Bill upon its merits on Monday. This Motion was only submitted in order to enable the House to entertain the Bill again. So far as the merits were concerned, he would not say that the House would have rejected the Bill if it had been in possession of the full facts. At all events, he believed it was undoubted that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would have assented, on behalf of the Government, to the Bill on Tuesday if a certain clause had been introduced. As that was the case, he thought the House would feel that it was only fair, seeing that a false issue had been presented to it on the former occasion, that no technical Rule should be enforced so as to prevent the House from having the whole question properly and fairly put before it.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, he believed, as the hon. and learned Gentleman had explained, that the sense of the House was against the Bill on a former occasion, because it did not contain a particular clause which was in it when it was originally introduced into the House of Lords about the purchase of a dust-yard at Battersea Park. There was also another clause objected to in reference to the putting up of the fresh capital to auction. He was informed and believed that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board was now satisfied, and that the Water Company was prepared to re-introduce the Bill with the clause relating to the purchase of the site at Battersea, and also with an amended clause dealing with the capital 1612 powers. So that the only objections which had been urged against the Bill had been removed by the Company voluntarily. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be only fair to give to the Company an opportunity of having the question argued again upon its merits, and to afford them that opportunity he would support the Motion now before the House authorising the Standing Order to be suspended.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
said, he should like, after what had taken place, to say a word upon this Bill. He thought that no objection could now be made to the Motion. On Tuesday he had raised an objection on behalf of the Government to the Bill as it was introduced into that House, because no provision was contained in it for removing the dust-yard, which, in the opinion of the Local Government Board, contaminated one of the filter beds of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company. But the Company had acceded to the demands of the Local Government Board in reference to that dust-yard, and had gone further and proposed to introduce a certain clause with respect of the debenture capital, on which point some objection was raised on Tuesday. The reason which induced him now to urge the House most strongly not to stop the Bill was that he was informed by the official responsible to the Local Government Board in matters connected with the water supply of London, that it was absolutely and vitally essential to the water supply of the Metropolis that this Bill should pass, or otherwise the water supply of this particular district would run short. The maximum had already been reached, or nearly so. The population of the district supplied by the Water Company was largely increasing, and if the Bill were not carried, this part of London, supplied by the Southwark and Vauxhall Company, would, in all probability, receive an insufficient supply. The responsibility was so great that he was convinced the House would not interpose any obstacle in the way of the passing of the Rill.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, ho could not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. It was perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman was one of the Gentlemen on 1613 the other side of the House who, when the Bill was under discussion on Tuesday, raised the question of the dust-yard; but that was really, so far as he (Mr. Labouchere) conceived, to throw dust in the eyes of the House, for it had absolutely nothing to do with the question, and was altogether a minor point. The real objection to the Bill was taken by the hon. Baronet the Member for Truro (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg)—namely)that the Metropolitan Board of Works had not agreed to the provisions of the Bill, but had opposed it, before the House of Lords, as representatives of the ratepayers of London, and had declared that if it wore persisted in, they would oppose it before the Committee of that House. What the Metropolitan Board objected to, and what the House agreed upon on Tuesday, was that the Bill had been introduced without the concurrence of the Metropolitan Board. What was urged was that no Bill of any Water Company ought to be read a second time in that House, or sent to a Committee upstairs, unless it had upon it the imprimatur of the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board. That was his (Mr. Labouchere's) idea of local self-government. Hon. Members knew perfectly well that it was always intended, when the Bill for the re-arrangement of the institutions of London was brought on, that London itself should have an opportunity of deciding upon these water questions, and the only reason why that was not the case now was that there had been no time to bring in the large Municipal Bill which had been so long promised. Until that Bill was brought in, he thought they ought to place some permanent authority in these matters in the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board said that if this Bill were not passed, this particular part of London would be put on a short supply. The right hon. Gentleman only heard that from the Company themselves.
§ THE PRESIDENT (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
begged the hon. Member's pardon. What ho had stated was that he received this information from the official responsible to the Local Government Board in matters connected with the water supply of the Metropolis.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that might be so; but all these gentlemen were very 1614 much under the influence of the Water Companies. Was this part of London put upon a short supply now, or was it likely that it was going to be placed on a short supply, if the House refused to read this Bill a second time? This was just the sort of thing which the Water Company would say—"If you do not give us leave to borrow £200,000 on our own promise, we will put you on short supply." That had been the bullying habit of the Water Companies for a long time. Ho did not believe in a short supply. One of the reasons why the Metropolitan Board opposed the Bill was that, if the money were borrowed without any arrangement as to back dividends, when the public came to buy up this Water Company they would have to pay 100 percent on all the increased capital which Parliament was now asked to authorize. The law, as it at present stood, was most unfair to the consumer, and whenever these Water Companies came for fresh powers to Parliament, protection ought to be given in order to make the Company pay a species of ransom for the right of getting fresh capital. He would not enter into details, as that was not the time for doing so; but he would remind the House that they had already refused to suspend the Standing Orders, and had come to that decision on the merits of the case. Everyone who voted on Tuesday against the suspension of the Standing Orders, did so under the impression that he was voting against the second reading of the Bill; and now, after having practically decided against the second reading, they were asked, for the benefit of this Water Company, to support this wretched Bill. When the House went to a division on Tuesday, there were a great many more Members present than there were now; but he trusted, if they were to divide again, that the same result would be arrived at.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON
said, that, individually, he was as much opposed to granting additional powers to the Water Companies as any Member of the House could possibly be; but he thought, in this case, that the appeal which had been made by the President of the Local Government Board was one that ought to be listened to. The proposal was merely to suspend one of the Standing Orders so that the whole question might be discussed. He thought 1615 enough had been thrown out to convince the House that with justice the Standing Order might be suspended, and the whole matter discussed on Monday on its merits.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that as a question of Order he would ask whether or not, as the Motion had been objected to, it ought not, as a matter of course, to stand over until to-morrow?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that that Rule only applied to Orders of the Day. The Motion did not come before the House as an Order of the Day, but its only object was to facilitate a further stage of the Bill at a future time. Therefore, it was not irregular to discuss the Motion now.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 53: Majority 23.—(Div. List, No. 240.)