§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I beg to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months. The Bill is now very materially altered in the character of its provisions. It is a Bill for the extension of the capital of the Company and the extension of the district which is to be supplied. Since my Notice of opposition was put on the Paper, the promoters have abandoned the larger portion of the district which, at first, they asked power to supply with gas. They have also abandoned several exceedingly objectionable clauses of the Bill, and they have reduced the amount of capital which they asked Parliament to sanction. I cannot help thinking that it is a great pity this House should be called upon at all to deal with so paltry a question as that which is now involved. The Bill asks for power to take over two or three small districts at some considerable distance from their source of supply, but with scarcely any population, and districts which are already supplied with gas by a Limited Liability Company. There is really no reason whatever why the promoters should come to this House for the powers they now seek. They originally sought to enlarge their capital by £50,000, and they proposed to pay a sum of £15,000 for the Gas Works they then proposed to take over. They have now, in the face of the opposition which was raised to the Bill, abandoned their intention of taking over the greatest portion of those works; but they, nevertheless, ask for power to raise an increased capital to the extent of £30,000; and they propose to pay something less than £2,700 for the purchase of certain works which they say they want at Cobham. There can be no excuse whatever for asking for a large amount of additional capital, so far as the ordinary works of this Gas Company are concerned. They have already a very much larger amount of 528 capital than any other Company of a similar nature in proportion to the amount of gas they manufacture. As a matter of fact, this Company has, at the present moment, a capital three times in excess of those Companies which have similar work to execute. Its capital is 50 per cent, at least, above that of any other Company whose returns I have been able to examine, and who are doing a similar business. The inhabitants of the district, who are the consumers of the gas supplied by the Company, complain that they are now charged 5s. per 1,000 feet for the gas they get from the Company; and they contend that the Company have no right to attempt to supply other places, the population of which altogether is under 2,500, when the result is likely to be an increase in the price of the gas at present supplied to them. I hardly know how far the House will feel it right to consider seriously an application of this kind; but I think it is most monstrous that a Bill should be lodged, and the bulk of the clauses which were objectionable having been abandoned, the Company should still ask Parliament to authorize them to raise an addititional capital of £30,000, when all they say they want to lay out is a sum of £2,700 in the purchase of some other works where the gas is now charged at the rate of 6s. per 1,000 feet, they charging 5s. per 1,000 feet themselves. It is said that they have not sufficient capital to enable them satisfactorily to continue their existing supply. Propably one reason for that is that the Company have been carrying on a coal business, by which those who oppose the Bill allege they have lost money. That is a business which does not fall within the scope of the powers of a Gas Company at all; and I submit that they ought not to have any Parliamentary authority for carrying it on. I am loth, to occupy the time of the House with a matter which is really much too small for the dignity of a Parliamentary discussion. It may be urged that it is a matter which could be best settled in a Committee upstairs; but my point is that a question of such trivial importance ought not to be submitted to a Committee at all. In fact, the Bill is an impertinence in the face of the House. I bog to move that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
I hope the House will not consider that the hon. Member has made out any justification for not allowing this Bill, in the usual course, to go before a Committee, where all the details may be fairly considered. The course which the hon. Member is taking is, I think, entirely opposed to the ordinary Rules which govern the proceedings of this House and its Standing Orders. I believe it will be in the power of the promoters of the Bill to show, by the clearest evidence, if it is referred to a Select Committee, that the hon. Member has altogether disregarded the facts of the case. He asserts that the Company propose to acquire the power of raising an excessive amount of capital. Surely, that is one of those questions which the House by its Standing Orders has intended should be relegated to Committees. The Bill itself has already passed the Standing Orders. I am informed that in this respect the provisions of the Bill have been subjected to the scrutiny of the usual authorities before whom such Bills go, and they are satisfied that it is entitled to go before a Committee. At all events, it is only fair that the Company which has expended all its original capital in the execution of works ought to be allowed to raise something in addition in order to enable them to carry on those works satisfactorily. I noticed in the remarks of the hon. Member, that he stated nothing to show that this additional capital is not required.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
Will the hon. Member pardon me. I think I did show that, because I said that other Companies are carrying on similar works upon one third, or 50 per cent less capital than has already been granted to this Company for the amount of gas they manufacture.
§ MR. KIMBER
I admit that it is quite possible to pick out a bad case; but I do not think it is fair to select one or two of the worst cases that can be picked out for comparison, The hon. 530 Member has been good enough to give me a list of Private Bills of this nature, but I am supplied by the promoters with a list of a good many which tell the other way, and I think I should be able to show a great many instances in which Gas Companies have received the sanction of Parliament to a much larger extention of capital than is asked for in this case. Indeed, I have a list of other Companies which shows just the contrary result. In this case, there is very good reason why the House should not interfere in preventing the Company from raising the additional capital they ask for. The hon. Member has himself admitted that if this Bill is granted the cost of gas to the consumer of the district the Company propose to supply will be very considerably reduced. At the present moment, I believe their charge is 4s. 9d. per 1,000 feet.
§ MR. KIMBER
Less discount—the actual price is, I believe, 4s. 9d. per 1,000 feet. I would also put this to the House, that the whole of the capital authorized by the Bill is actually to be raised without the payment of any premium to the shareholders. The whole of the new capital is to be put up to auction, and if a premium is paid that premium will not go into the pockets of the shareholders. These are, however, matters of detail with which I am almost ashamed to trouble the House. I would only add, that, upon my own responsibility, I can give the assurance that if the Bill is passed the public will derive great advantage from it. If any hon. Member will take the trouble to examine the Bill, and view it upon its merits, I am satisfied he will arrive at the conclusion that it will compare favourably with any other legislation of the same class, and that it is fairly entitled to be submitted to the investigation of a Select Committee.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I should like to say one or two words with regard to this Bill. When it first came before this House for second reading it contained a number of provisions which I looked upon as objectionable, and I gave Notice of opposition to it. Since then I have had time to inquire into various points upon which, in the first instance, I was not satisfied, and 531 the result of the investigation was to induce me to withdraw that opposition. What I did then I am prepared to support now, and if the House come to a Division it will afford me a certain amount of pleasure to support the second reading of the Bill, having found out that I was wrong in having opposed it in the first instance.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
This Bill appears now in a very different form from that in which it was originally introduced, and it is promoted for a widely different object. Under these circumstances, I think the House ought to act in accordance with the principle which usually guides it, and allow the Bill to go before a Select Committee upstairs, by whom its details will be fairly considered.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 70: Majority 65.—(Div. List, No. 103.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.