§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Forster.)
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
I have placed upon the Paper a Notice not of objection to the second reading of this Bill, but of my intention, after it has been read a second time, to move that it be referred to a Hybrid Committee, together with an enlargement of the Standing Orders in regard to Petitions against Private Bills. I wish to explain to the House my motives for having placed this Motion upon the Notice Paper.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he does not object to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Then before the hon. Gentleman makes his Motion it will be necessary that the Bill should be read a second time.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed."—(Sir Charles Forster.)
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
I beg to move—That the Bill he referred to a Select Committee, Five to he nominated by the House, and Four by the Committee of Selection:—That all Petitions against the Bill, presented not later than six days before the meeting of the Committee, be referred to the Committee; and that such of the Petitioners as pray to be heard by 1506 themselves, their Counsel, Agents, or Witnesses, be heard upon their Petitions, if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against such Petitions.I propose to move a similar Resolution in the case of the East London Water Bill, and of the Southwark and Vaux-hall Water Bill, which are down on the list of Private Bills for consideration on the present occasion. My object is to secure that they shall be referred to a Hybrid Committee in the form indicated in my Motion. My principal motive for taking this step is the fact that these three Water Bills together contemplate the raising of perpetual Debenture Stock at 4 percent of no less than £700,000. Now, it is within the knowledge of the House that the Water Companies will, some time or other, in accordance with the view which the House has over and over again expressed, be taken over by some constituted authority within the Metropolis—either a new municipal organization, or some one of the existing organizations which deal with the raising and spending of money in the Metropolis. It is perfectly well known that the Metropolitan Board of Works, on the security of the rates, is able to raise the funds that may be necessary for the purpose of carrying on their undertakings at the same price that Government are able to raise money on Consolidated Annuities. And I conclude that if we consent, without any restraint, to grant to these Water Companies—and I wish the House to observe that these three Water Companies supply one-half of London—the power of raising no less than £700,000 in this way—in the case of the conversion of this Debenture Stock into Metropolitan Stock or Consols the ratepayers would be mulcted to the extent of £175,000—that is to say, that the value of this, Debenture Stock, when turned into a perpetual 4 per cent, will be equivalent to what would certainly in the market fetch £125 for every £100 Stock. Then I think that, under these circumstances, the House of Commons ought to resist an attempt of this kind to create a very large debt in the way of raising money by Debenture Stock upon such terms as these by the Water Companies. I certainly do not think, and I believe it will be the general feeling of the House, that the Water Companies of the Metropolis deserve any great amount of consideration at our 1507 hands. I understand that the three Water Companies in regard to whose Bills my Motion is directed have issued a paper to-day imputing to me certain improper motives in bringing forward this proposition. Now, I have no motive whatever, except that of a consideration for the ratepayers of London, whose interests cannot be looked after except by the Metropolitan Members, as they have no real Municipal Institution upon which they can fall back. It is upon that ground that I deem it to be the duty of every Metropolitan Member to deal with every measure which may appear to involve the welfare of the Metropolis, especially where there is a total absence of information as to the manner in which the provisions of a Private Bill may affect the interests of the ratepayers they represent. I may add that in making this Motion I have the support of the hon. Baronet the senior Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler). The City of London have determined to appear by counsel against this Bill, with a view of preventing a large and unnecessary expenditure from falling hereafter upon the ratepayers of the Metropolis. I have also had an opportunity of speaking to the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who is well known to take a great interest in these matters, and I believe I am fairly entitled to say that I have his sympathy and goodwill in the Motion I now make. I hope that in the interests of good government in London, and the prevention of an extravagant outlay of the public money at a large loss to the mass of the ratepayers, the House will agree to my proposal, which is simply to refer all these Bills to a Hybrid Committee under conditions which will secure the representation of every interest concerned. If this is done the expense to the ratepayers of the Metropolis will be greatly diminished, because they will have to appear before one Committee only, instead of having to instruct counsel to appear against three Bills which may be heard by three separate Committees. My Motion will give the parties who are interested in opposing the provisions of these Bills an opportunity of being fairly heard on the matter; and there will undoubtedly be sufficient in the way of instruction to the Committee to induce them to devote their attention to 1508 this branch of water finance, with a view of making it as little onerous to the ratepayers as possible. I beg to move that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee in the terms of the Motion which I have placed upon the Paper.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
I beg to second the proposal of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers).
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "to a Select Committee, to consist of Nine Members, Five to he nominated by the House, and Four by the Committee of Selection."— (Mr. Thorold Rogers.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS
I trust the House will allow me to say a word upon this Motion in favour of the Bill which is now under consideration. The hon. Member (Mr. Thorold Rogers) has said that certain motives have been attributed to him in papers alleged to have been put forth by the Water Companies—I think he said to-day. I am bound to say that I have not seen those papers, nor shall I, or the Company which I have the honour to represent, attribute any personal motives to the hon. Member on this occasion. The object of this particular Bill—the Lambeth Water Bill— is to raise the sum of 150,000 by means of Debenture Stock at 4 per cent, and to meet the requirements of an ever-increasing district. The district supplied by the Lambeth Water Company is increasing at the rate of something like 4,000 houses every year; and the Company ask to be allowed to supply this increasing district with an increased water supply. In the year 1883 the Company applied to the House for power to raise a capital sum of £375,000. Of that sum only £75,000 were granted by the Committee, presided over, I believe, by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the senior Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket). Looking at the Report of that Committee, I find it is stated that the Preamble of the Bill was proved; but that, having regard to the Report of the Committee on the London Water Supply in 1880, they were not willing to grant powers beyond what were absolutely necessary to meet the actual demands of the public which might interfere with future legislation. The 1509 amount of capital authorized to be raised under the Bill was, therefore, limited to £75,000. What we ask for now is simply the means of living from hand to mouth, and in order that we may be enabled to carry out the necessary requirements of this ever-increasing demand. At that time, when the power to raise an additional capital of £75,000 was granted by the Committee to the Company, there was a Bum of £90,000 in hand, and the annual expenditure on capital works amounted to something like £50,000 a-year. More than two-thirds of the amount granted in 1883, besides the £90,000 in hand, have been expended, in order to meet these requirements; and I do not think, therefore, that the Lambeth Water Company are asking for very much in the very modest amount of increased capital they have inserted in the Bill. If the Motion of the hon. Member for Southwark is carried the Company will be put to a greatly increased expense; and they will be obliged to admit, as Petitioners against the Bill, persons whose claims have not been passed by the proper authorities of this House. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) alluded to the fact that the Corporation of the City of London intend to present a Petition against the Bill. Well, Sir, if the authorities of the City of London represented here by the hon. Baronet the senior Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler) intend to petition against the Bill, I would ask why they did not petition against it in the ordinary way, and allow their Petition to go before the Court of locus standi? I really do not see the slightest reason why this Bill should not be treated in the ordinary way. If it is sent, in the usual manner, before a Select Committee upstairs, the public interests will be duly guarded by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who have already petitioned against the Bill, and whose Petition has been passed by the authorities of the Court of locus standi. Then, I trust, without taking up further time, that the House will not agree to the Motion of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers). I take it that, if there is any real objection to the principle of the Bill, the proper course would have been to oppose the second reading of it, and that it is not desirable now to depart from the ordinary course of re- 1510 ferring a Private Bill which has been read a second time to a Select Committee.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House tells us that it is the duty of the Metropolitan Board of Works to take charge of the opposition against this Bill, and that they have already been granted a locus standi.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not in Order in speaking again, inasmuch as he seconded the Amendment.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. COURTNEY)
If this Bill were the only Bill relating to the supply of water to the Metropolis which has been introduced this Session, I think there would be much force in the objections which have been raised by the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Akers-Douglas). But it will be observed that there are two other Bills which also deal with the supply of water to parts of the Metropolis; and the three Bills, taken together, cover a very large proportion of the whole Metropolitans upply. Upon that ground I conceive there may be reasons for departing from the ordinary Rule of the House to refer Private Bills to the consideration of a Select Committee of four Members of the House, and for referring these particular Bills to a Hybrid Committee. I am sorry to say that the practice of referring Private Bills to Hybrid Committees is rather a growing one; and I think it ought to be watched with a certain amount of care. It must be remembered that it opens the door to a good deal of wrangling with regard to the provisions of a Bill, and that it involves a considerable amount of expense being thrown on the consumers of water, as well as upon those who supply the water. But, at the same time, I think that it is possible to meet this particular case in a satisfactory manner by a modification of the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers). He proposes to refer this and other Bills to a Hybrid Committee to be nominated by the House and the Committee of Selection, and to allow all Petitions against the Bill presented not later than six days before the meeting of the Committee to be referred to the Committee, giving the Petitioners the right of being heard against the Bill by counsel, agents, and witnesses. Now, I 1511 think that that amounts to an invitation for the presentation of Petitions which may be carried out to an alarming and unnecessary extent. I think it is quite sufficient that we should allow such Petitioners to be heard before the Hybrid Committee who presented their Petitions within the time allowed by the Standing Orders. In that case the Corporation of the City of London, as well as the Metropolitan Board of Works, will be heard in opposition to the Bill; and the two acting together may be fairly taken to represent the interests of the ratepayers of the Metropolis. Under these circumstances, I propose to amend the Motion of the hon. Member for South-wark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) by omitting the words "presented not later than six days before the meeting of the Committee," with the object of having the Bills referred to the Committee in the usual way; and upon that understanding I would advise the House to assent to the Motion.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee to consist of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House, and Four by the Committee of Selection.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I have now to move the next paragraph in an amended form—That all Petitions against the Bill, presented within the time limited by the Standing Orders, be referred to the Committee; and that such of the Petitioners as pray to he heard by themselves, their Counsel, Agents, or Witnesses, be heard upon their Petitions, if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against such Petitions.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered accordingly.