§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ SIR JAMES M'GAREL-HOGG,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it had passed its second reading last Session with the support of the Government, though defeated ultimately by the difficulties which private Members' Bills had to encounter. The Bill was merely intended to enable the Metropolitan Board of Works to appear before the Parliamentary Committees and oppose, if they thought fit, in the interests of the ratepayers' Bills promoted by the Water Companies giving power to enforce vexatious regulations or to raise excessive capital. The Auditor had disallowed the expenses incurred by the Metropolitan Board of Works for so acting on a previous occasion, on the ground that this was beyond their powers, and therefore it was that this Bill was now introduced.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, the Bill was quite unnecessary, for no Committee in the present state of public opinion would grant a Water Company excessive powers of any kind. It was, therefore, quite unnecessary for the Metropolitan Board of Works to waste the ratepayers' money in appearing before Parliamentary Committees in such cases. The House should be careful how it gave a Body which was not directly, but only indirectly, representative of the ratepayers, the power of spending money unnecessarily; and Heaven knew that the rates were heavy enough already. He thought that, if anything, the power of the Metropolitan Board of Works in regard to expenditure ought to be curbed rather than enlarged, unless a strong case of necessity could be made out, and no necessity had been proved. There were plenty of hon. Members of that House representing the Metropolis who would jealously guard against anything being done to the detriment of the ratepayers. He therefore hoped that the House would not assent to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. COOPE,
in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that Bill was to his mind a most mischievous measure la-ought in. inconsiderately by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who were very apt to give the Metropolis a great deal of unnecessary trouble. The measure would give that Board the power of taxing the ratepayers uselessly, as they had done before, and of taxing thorn heavily. On a former occasion that Board had taken upon itself without due legal power to put the Metropolis to an expense of £17,000, and then they came to that House with a Bill of Indemnity to relieve them from that to which they were personally liable. If in future they were to have a Municipality for the whole Metropolis, it would be unwise to intrust powers of that kind to a. Body such as the Metropolitan Board of Works; and, under the whole circumstances of the case, he thought the Bill was one which the House ought not to pass. He begged, therefore, to move his Amendment.
§ 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."
§ MR. F. W. MACLEAN
said, that the Bill appeared to be unsound in point of principle and dangerous in point of precedent. Its object was really to remove a restriction placed on the Metropolitan Board of Works by previous Acts of Parliament, and if passed it would result in increased rates and also in increased cost to the Water Companies without any corresponding benefit to the public at large. It was, he hoped, more than probable that in time they would have one comprehensive Body dealing for the Metropolis with all these questions, and this was, perhaps, the last effort made by a Body to some extent moribund in the hope by getting these powers of being in a position when the question arose to say—"We are now in possession of powers that are very important, and they ought not to be taken away from us." Moreover, if they sanctioned the Bill at the instance of the Metropolitan Board of Works, there could be no fair refusal given to all the Local Bodies of Provincial towns should they 1166 come to Parliament asking for similar powers. He, therefore, seconded the Amendment.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. BROADHURST)
said, it might facilitate Business if he stated at once that the Government wore unable to agree to the second reading of the Bill. Hon. Members who had examined the Bill would be somewhat astounded at the enormous powers which the Metropolitan Board of Works sought from the House. There was, in fact, really no limit to the expenditure they might incur if the Bill became law. Having regard to the fact that the Government would very shortly be considering the proposals for a representative system of government for the whole of the Metropolis, they were of opinion that they would not be consulting the interests of the ratepayers by agreeing to the proposal brought forward that afternoon. Under these circumstances, the Government would be compelled to oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. E. RIDER COOK
said, that though he was in favour of a reform of London Government, ho did not think that, on the chance of that reform, these very necessary and beneficial powers should be denied to the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was a member of the Board, and could say that in the past the Board had opposed several Water Bills, to the great advantage of the ratepayers. But they wanted to be able to do this with perfect legality. These powers of raising new capital which the Companies were constantly obtaining would immensely enhance the sum to be paid to the Companies whenever they came to be bought out.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
did not think that the reason given by the Government for opposing this Bill was a very good one. When they were in Office previously, they had under their consideration a scheme for the better government of London; but that had resulted in nothing to the advantage of the Metropolis. He saw no reason at present to suppose that any future deliberations would be productive of better results; and the reform of London Government still seemed some distance off. Meanwhile, the Water Companies were largely increasing their capital. When in Office some years ago, he (Sir R. 1167 Assheton Cross) endeavoured to bring forward a plan for buying out the Water Companies. The necessary calculations were placed in the hands of Mr. Smith, a gentleman who had possessed the confidence of several Governments. Mr. Smith threw his whole heart into the matter, and produced a scheme and a basis of valuation which appeared to be most accurate and fair. Subsequently a Committee sat to inquire into the subject, and Mr. Smith was severely attacked on the ground that his estimate was excessive. The plan was rejected. Several years had since elapsed, and a Return recently made showed that, taking all the Water Companies together, if they had been purchased on Mr. Smith's estimate the profits to the purchaser would have amounted to £99,000. He thought it necessary to make this statement in justice to Mr. Smith. It was true that with regard to one Company the amount offered was greatly in excess; but his instructions to Mr. Smith were that he should buy the whole of Companies' works or none; and therefore, at the last moment, Mr. Smith was compelled to give one Company a larger sum than they were entitled to. Mr. Smith, as the result showed, was amply justified in what he had proposed. The Water Companies would, he undertook to say, be never again purchased at so low a rate, and the public had lost an opportunity which they never would have again. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt), in refusing to purchase, made a very great mistake, which, no doubt, he must have ever since regretted. They were told that the Companies would be bought up when London had a reformed government. But he supposed the question of Ireland would take precedence; and in the meantime the water consumers of the Metropolis were suffering.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he thought the reasons given by the Under Secretary (Mr. Broadhurst) for opposing the second reading of the Bill were very inadequate. The Under Secretary told the House that the Bill ought not to be carried to a second reading because at some time or other we should have a better government of the Metropolis. For his own part, he thought that the public ought to make use of any protection which they possessed; and they had no other protector but the 1168 Metropolitan Board of Works, which in the past had, as far as possible, defended the interests of the ratepayers against the Water Companies. He could not forget that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt), who was Home Secretary at the time, opposed with the greatest bitterness, and, unfortunately, with effect, one of the best Bills every introduced into the House; and he thought that no greater misfortune had happened to the Metropolis than the failure of that Bill. Since that time nothing had been done in the matter, nor was anything likely to be done for some years.
§ It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.