HC Deb 05 March 1886 vol 303 cc81-8

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [24th February], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

And which Amendment was, 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 again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, he took occasion to state that the objection of the Government to the measure had been mainly founded on the fact that it enabled the Metropolitan Board of Works not only to oppose Bills which they might think to be against the interest of the ratepayers, but also to promote Bills relating to the water supply of the Metropolis, and to other Metropolitan purposes. Since the adjournment of the debate, however, the hon. Baronet who was in charge of the Bill had agreed that he would, in Committee, omit such portions of it as empowered the Board to take the initiative in legislation. The Bill would then only enable the Board to oppose measures which they might deem to be adverse to the interests of the Metropolis. In these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government would not further oppose the second reading.


said, he desired to offer a few observations to the House before they assented to the second reading of a Bill against which, as a ratepayer, he strongly protested. As regarded the Water Companies, their opposition to the Bill was, of course, considerably diminished by the proposed alterations which were to be made in Committee; but he should like to be sure that he understood correctly the exact alterations. He understood that the words "make application to Parliament and may," in Clause 2, were to be omitted, and also the further words "or the acquisition of the undertakings of any such Companies "were to be struck out. In other words, that the Metropolitan Board of Works undertook not to initiate any Bill for providing a new supply of water to the Metropolis, or for purchasing the existing Water Companies. Well, the Water Companies would in the future, if the Bill so altered were to become law, find the Metropolitan Board supporting instead of opposing them. Therefore, so far as the Water Companies were concerned, they might almost desire that the Bill, as amended, should be passed. But he (Sir Henry Holland) still objected to this Bill as a ratepayer. The Bill still gave wide and vague powers to the Board to oppose applications "with respect to Companies authorized to provide a supply of water and the undertakings of such Companies," and to institute "inquiries and negotiations," and to saddle the expense, necessarily very heavy, of such opposition and inquiries upon the Metropolitan ratepayers without their having been previously consulted. Why should the Metropolitan ratepayers be placed on a different footing to the municipal ratepayers in other places? Opposition and inquiries, if this Bill passed, might be made very unnecessarily and unwisely, at the instance of a small majority of the Board, and the ratepayers would be saddled with the costs. He protested, as a ratepayer, against this Bill; and nothing, he freely admitted, had astonished him more than the apathy of the London ratepayers upon this question.


observed, that if the Bill was to be emasculated in the way proposed, it would merely leave the Metropolitan Board in a position to oppose legislation relating to the water supply emanating from anybody but themselves. He was one of those who was not satisfied with the present water supply; and he thought that, considering all things, the House would exercise a better display of wisdom in deciding that this Bill should be placed in the background. It was far better that the water supply question should be dealt with as a whole by the Government, than in the piecemeal fashion in which this measure proposed to grapple with a great question.


said, he had no knowledge of the arrangement which had been come to between the Government and his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) who had charge of this measure until he heard the statement just made; but the consideration which he had given to what had been stated appeared to him to make the measure scarcely less desirable than it was before. The Bill had been described very frankly as a measure to enable the Metropolitan Board to do legally what they had hitherto done illegally; and the Amendment it was intended to adopt in Committee still left the objectionable power in the hands of the Board, who were to decide on their own motion what was desirable and what was undesirable. As had been said, the Metropolitan Board of Works was not a directly elected Body; and they were, therefore, not in a position to properly exercise the powers they were claiming. This should not be lost sight of, nor should they forget that if the Bill was thrown out the Metropolitan Board would still be able to oppose any measure which it might be inexpedient to pass, or which might be improperly put forward. Besides that, he regarded it as the duty of the Government to protect the ratepayers, in common with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects, from the passage of undesirable Bills of the kind in question. He certainly should be inclined to move as an Amendment that the debate should be further adjourned for six months.


observed, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down said there was always the Government to fall back upon in these matters. He must protest against the idea that when there was a responsible Body like the Metropolitan Board of Works, specially appointed to deal with these Metropolitan questions, it should be passed by and the Government appealed to. The Metropolitan Board was a Body with a representative character, and they should not be passed over in matters affecting the Metropolis. It had been agreed to leave out that part of the Bill which related to the power to promote water schemes; and surely the Metropolitan Board were a more fit Body than the Government to oppose such schemes if necessary.


said, he hoped the House would not pass the Bill. There was a growing feeling in the Metropolis that the Board entered too much into legislation. It was constantly bringing Bills before Parliament, and constantly spending the money of the ratepayers; and he could not help thinking the Board laid claim to a greater amount of popularity than it possessed. The general feeling of the ratepayers of the Metropolis was a hope that the Government would at no distant date deal with the water question; and it was matter of great regret that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross), which had received the assent of the ratepayers and the Water Companies, was not proceeded with.


said, that, in view of the promised reform of the government of London, this Bill ought not to pass. The proper settlement of the question ought to be left either to the new Municipality or to the Government of the day.


said, he trusted the House would reject the Bill, even as amended. It was said it would be hard that the duty of protecting the Metropolitan ratepayers should devolve on the Government; and therefore the matter must be thrown upon the Metropolitan Board. But he very much doubted whether the ratepayers of the Metropolis had the confidence in the Metropolitan Board which the Home Secretary supposed. There was another body of men who might be trusted to look after the interests of their constituents in these matters, and that was the Metropolitan Members. The Metropolitan Board was a moribund Body, and was likely to pass away very soon, and therefore ought not to be entrusted with further powers.


observed, that the hon. Member (Baron Dims-dale) was an eminent Director of Water Companies, which accounted for the knowledge he had displayed on the subject. There must be some Body charged with looking after these matters, and he contended that the proper Body was the Metropolitan Board. As long as they had that Body they must trust it. Whatever changes might be made in the government of London, there would still be wanting a Body to represent the different interests of the Metropolis in the way that Board did. He thought the work of the Metropolitan Board had, as a rule, been well done, and the Board was entitled to the gratitude of the ratepayers for what it had done.


said, if they wanted a Body to manage these things satisfactorily, it should be a Body as unlike the Metropolitan Board as they could possibly have. As a Metropolitan Member, he ventured to say that his constituents looked with very great suspicion upon the action of the Metropolitan Board, especially in connection with questions of this character.


said, when he brought the Bill in he gave his reasons for it, and entered into past legislation, and showed why the Board considered this Bill necessary. If the Metropolitan Board of Works found in any case that the Acts of Parliament which related to their work were misconstrued, they intended, notwithstanding that, to go on and do their best for the ratepayers of the Metropolis. He entirely disclaimed the idea that the Metropolitan Board of Works was a moribund Body, or that he was a moribund Chairman. The Body over which he presided would, notwithstanding the jeers and threats and gibes with which it had been assailed outside, go on doing their best for the ratepayers; but he ridiculed the idea that before introducing a Bill of this kind they should consult the ratepayers. Did they want a mass meeting in Hyde Park? The Board had been enlarged and strengthened by 13 or 14 additional members elected under the Act of last year; and evidently Parliament did not regard it as a moribund Body. They represented the interests of the ratepayers at large; and he contended that it was a very good thing for the Metropolis to have some Body which was not afraid of Gas or Water Companies, or, indeed, of any other monopolies. Unfortunately, however, the Auditor had taken a different view of the case, and it was to make clearer the 144th section of the Act that this Bill had been introduced.


said, he objected to giving the Metropolitan Board such powers. He submitted that the duty of watching the water question, which he admitted was a very serious one, lay with the Government. He begged to oppose, in the interests of the Metropolitan constituents he represented, the second reading of the Bill. The Bill would promote speculative litigious pro- ceedings in Parliament, such as had already involved the Metropolitan Board in great cost—£17,000—which the Auditor had disallowed, and which had been paid under a special Act passed by the House on an undertaking by the Chairman not to take further action on the subject except with the consent and approval of the Government. He objected to the Board interfering in this matter. It was not a duty delegated to the Board; that contention was proved by the introduction of this Bill, by which the Board sought to obtain a power that they did not possess. He objected to the Bill as practically entrusting the Metropolitan Board of Works with a roving commission to oppose Water Bills. The proper course was for the Board to examine or watch any projects they thought fit, and not to enter on litigious Parliamentary contests at the expense of the ratepayers without their consent, but to bring to the attention of the Government anything objectionable for their interference, so that, if necessary, it might be dealt with on the responsibility of the Government of the day.


said, that the hon. Member seemed to have based his argument on the original Bill, and to have forgotten the objectionable passages which had been left out of it. To cast the duty of watching the water question upon the Government would surely be a piece of centralization which would not be in the interest of the ratepayers at all. He thought that this matter was plain to all those who had taken part in municipal matters in the Provinces. Whenever any Company applied for powers, whether Tramway, Railway, Water, or Gas Companies, it was the duty of the Local Authority to watch over the interests of the ratepayers in a manner that no other authority could do. The hon. Member had said that the Metropolitan Board of Works had not that power. He thought by that statement the hon. Member surrendered the whole question. This was evidently a ratepayers' question. The power of these private Companies was well known; and individual ratepayers had positively no chance single-handed in resisting their demands. He admitted that the Metropolitan Board of Works was not their idea of what a Representative Body should be, but it was the best they possessed; and if these powers were granted to the Metropolitan Board of Works they would, in any reform of the government of London, be handed over to the newly-constituted authority, whatever it might be. He did not think that anyone who admitted that ratepayers needed protection from private Companies could refrain from coming to the conclusion that some such powers as were asked for in this Bill should be conferred on the best Representative Body that existed, pending a better form of municipal government.


said, the hon. Member had stated that in all other places the Local Authorities possessed the power of looking after the interests of the ratepayers in opposing Bills promoted by private Companies. The hon. Member, however, must not forget that this power could only be exercised under the control of the Municipal Funds Act of 1872, and that before such opposition could be undertaken by the Local Board or any other Governing Authority the consent of the ratepayers must have been obtained. The objection, as he understood it, of hon. Members who opposed this Bill was that power was given to the Metropolitan Board of Works without any control on the part of the ratepayers. If there had been in this Bill any restriction of the kind which existed in the Bill of 1872 the matter might have been different; but, as it stood, the Bill gave a simple and uncontrolled authority to the Metropolitan Board of Works. He recognized that the Metropolitan Board of Works had done much useful work, whatever faults it might have; but, on the other hand, when they saw what had happened with regard to this Bill, he thought it should not be passed without a strong case being made out in support of it. He submitted that no strong case had been made out. He understood that in 1879 the hon. Member for the Hornsey Division of Middlesex (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) said that he would never put his name to any Bill of the kind without consultation with the Government, and that the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Sir Henry Holland) withdrew his opposition to the Bill in consequence of the statement then made. If so, this Bill was undoubtedly promoted without the consent of the Government. He thought it was open to serious question whether or not the position of the Metropolitan Board was such that it ought to be trusted with what might be called a roving commission to oppose Water Bills. While it was proper that there should be an authority able to watch over the interests of the ratepayers and water consumers, he submitted that no sufficient case had been made out for allowing the Metropolitan Board of Works without control to spend the money of the ratepayers in this manner.


said, he thought that the hon. and learned Member had not looked into the case. He had never said anything which could bear the construction put upon it by the hon. and learned Member. He had said that he would never bring in a Bill which would make the Metropolitan Board in any way liable for an expenditure of money, and that this Bill was simply to give to the Metropolitan Board of Works the power.


said, he wished merely to state that he should oppose the Bill, because the Metropolitan Board of Works was, as he believed it ought to be, a moribund Body.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 130: Majority 54.—(Div. List. No. 20.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.