§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Lewis Fry.)
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
said, he proposed to be as short as he could in the remarks he intended to make. He did not intend to offer any apology to the House for bringing the matter forward at that stage, because he believed that when he had concluded his remarks and pointed out the objections that existed to this Bill, no apology would be deemed necessary. The Bill was promoted by the Bristol Water Works Company, with a view of taking water from a valley in Somersetshire, situated some 15 miles from Bristol. It was not put forward by the Corporation of Bristol—on the contrary, the Corporation of Bristol had petitioned against it. It was not the opposition of another Company, or from the land interest only, nor did the opposition come from the manufacturing interest. It came solely from the inhabitants of the valley affected, who were engaged in agricultural pursuits, and a great number of whom were small owners. The land owners could take up their own case and fight their own battle, and, as a rule, were able to get clauses inserted in a Private Bill, so that its provisions did them no harm, but in some instances a great deal of good. In this case the inhabitants were not in the position of landowners, but they were fighting for their own property and that greatest gift of Providence—a bountiful supply of beautiful water. The Petition against the Bill was got up by the inhabitants of the district, and joining with them were the Rural Sanitary Authority, the Drain- 335 age Commissioners, and the Charity Trustees. He would point out, in the first place, that the inhabitants themselves, at a public meeting, empowered a Committee to act on their behalf in opposing the Bill. The Rural Sanitary Authority joined in the opposition by unanimously affixing their seal to the signature of the inhabitants. The Drainage Commissioners had an important duty to perform, not only in clearing the land of superfluous water, but in preserving the water that was necessary for dividing fields and property. The Charity Trustees also joined the inhabitants in their opposition, and he might explain that the fund of the Charity Trustees, which arose from the land they had in this valley, was employed to keep up Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, where some 200 poor boys were maintained. If hon. Members would look through the Bill they would see that the first part of it was directed to the taking wholesale two streams of water rising from the side of the Mendip Hills. There wore three villages on the two streams he had indicated which depended upon them for the supply of water, and it was the only water available in the valley for agricultural purposes. At Rickford it was the only source of supply. Sometimes for months together these streams were the only places where the inhabitants of the district could get water. It occasionally happened that the wells ran dry, and then these streams provided the sole supply, and the farms in the valley were laid out so as to benefit by these streams. It was propose to take these streams bodily away; and, in addition, he might point out that no consideration for the requirements of the inhabitants was to be expected from this Company. The source of one of the streams was the property of a gentleman who was a Director of the Bristol Water Works Company. He had made an ornamental pond, and built a boathouse on it. There was also a waterfall, and ten yards below this the water was put in pipes and carried to Bristol, but not before he had erected a pumping engine for the supply of his own residence and farm. Nothing could happen to him, nor could a single drop of water go direct to the Company of which he was a Director until he had supplied his own wants. There were two pumping stations to be erected in the valley, and these pumping stations, as far as he 336 could make out, were to cost something like £250,000. They were told that these two pumping stations were to have shafts of indefinite depth, and from them would run three large drifts. The opponents were advised by their engineer that the effect of this pumping upon the shallow wells in the neighbourhood would be to lower them in every case, and in many cases to dry them up altogether, as had been shown in the next valley, where the same Company had erected pumping stations with most disastrous effect. He would remind the House that, although there were only four parishes in the valley, they were scattered all over it. They embraced a large number of very small holdings—a great bulk of the owners of which, although they owned the land which they tilled, had no title to show. They were supplied by shallow wells, and this system of pumping would suck the water from them; and if the inhabitants dug deeper, why, of course, the Water Works Company would go deeper still. One landowner, in reference to the pumping station in the next valley, got a clause inserted in the Bill; but it had never been attended to at all, and the water flowing from the stream was greatly diminished throughout the whole of last summer, and the agriculturists of the valley were put to great trouble and inconvenience. He held in his hand a Petition signed by the inhabitants of four parishes against the Bill. As he had said, the district was one belonging chiefly to small owners, and there were altogether, he thought, 160 owners in the four parishes. He was not quite sure, but he believed that the Petition was signed by 600 persons. It was a Petition from the inhabitants, and every person whose name appeared upon it was a resident occupier; some of them could only made their mark. So anxious were the inhabitants to oppose the Bill, that in some instances nearly the whole of the resident occupiers had signed the Petition. In one parish—that of Churchill—122 out of 145 had signed the Petition; and in another parish 73 out of 85. That would show the House the sort of people who would be affected by the Bill. In regard to the Rural Sanitary Authority a question was raised of the highest importance. He had had the honour since 1875 of being Chairman 337 of the Sanitary Authority, and he was able to say that as soon as this scheme was put forward it was received by that authority with the greatest possible alarm. Hon. Members, especially those who took an interest in county matters, would be aware that under the Acts of 1875 and 1878, the Water and Public Health Acts, the Sanitary Authority had to supply every house with water sufficient for domestic and other purposes, and it was further provided that no house should be certified as fit for occupation until it was reported to the Sanitary Authority that a sufficient supply of fresh water had been provided. In addition, under these Acts the Sanitary Authority had no power to apply 1d. of the rates in defending their position. Therefore, they had to sit with their hands folded while they saw this scheme being passed through Parliament, which would deprive them of the water they were bound to give to the people. He would ask the House how the Rural Sanitary Authority was to supply the people with water if the Bristol Water Works Company were to take it all away? The Sanitary Authority had no power to apply the rates in opposing the Bill, but it was their duty to supply the water, and when that water was taken away from them it would be necessary to expend a large sum of money and to impose heavy taxation upon the locality in order to replace it. Even then, where the water was to come from they had no idea whatever. It might occur to hon. Members that it would be a good and sufficient answer to the course he proposed to take on this occasion when it was said that a large town like Bristol must be supplied with water for its increasing population. That was no doubt the case, but he had an answer to that statement—namely, that Bristol might be amply supplied from the spring which some time ago broke into the Severn Tunnel of the Great Western Railway. Last year a Company, called the Bristol Consumers' Company, was formed to supply Bristol with this water. The Company introduced a Bill into Parliament, which went before a Committee of the House of Lords. It was opposed by the Bristol Water Works Company—the very Company now promoting this scheme—simply because it would interefere with the profits of the Company. But in fighting the Bill it 338 came out that the greatest argument of the Bristol Water Company was that it was unnecessary to bring this water supply into Bristol at all. The Bristol Company made that their chief case. A question was put to Mr. Alexander, the Secretary of the Company, by Mr. Bidder to this effect—" You have not only sufficient water for your present purposes, but looking a long way ahead? "The answer of the Secretary was—"Yes, ample," and that was the reply given by the Company a year ago, and formed a good answer, he thought, to those who maintained that it was necessary for Bristol to have this water. The Great Western Railway Company had a Bill before Parliament this year, and that Bill contained a clause by which they were authorized to sell this spring to any Corporation or Company. At the present moment there were millions of gallons pumped out of the Severn Tunnel daily which were running to waste In addition to this fact, he would point out that there were other sources of supply. There was a Water Company in the immediate neighbourhood of Bristol, called the West Gloucestershire Company, and that Company was in a condition to supply Bristol and all its increasing wants. The Secretary of the Bristol Company said a year ago that their supply was ample, and he held in his hand a telegram received from the West Gloucestershire Company only that day, which was as follows:—West Gloucestershire Company are in position to supply any deficiency of Bristol Company's resources within a week from the date of order.Therefore, he would put it to the House that there were other sources from which Bristol could be supplied. But the promoters of this Bill took this one because it was the nearest and cheapest, and they would not have to pay for it. He knew he was taking an unusual course in opposing a Private Bill upon the second reading, but he wished to make it perfectly clear what the reason of his doing so was. He had been asked by the inhabitants of the valley to oppose its present stage for this reason—the subscription list which had been opened and the Petition which been presented against the Bill did not emanate from the landowners, but from the residents in the valley, and the funds for opposing the Bill had been raised by public sub- 339 scription. Small sums had been subscribed by 420 different persons. Perhaps the House might imagine that a large subscription list like that ought to realize a considerable sum of money, but he would remind the House of the fact that the subscribers were very small owners, and that 253 sums were between £1 and 3d. Cottagers had come in large numbers who wished to subscribe, even from a distance, and the result was that a large number of the amounts subscribed ranged from 3d. to £1, with the object of fighting for what the people knew to be their means of obtaining a livelihood. Now, the expense of fighting this question upstairs would be tremendous. He did not know whether anything was likely to be done in that respect, but he sincerely hoped that in the course of the present Session some change would be effected. To give an instance of the course pursued, the inhabitants were told by their agent that it was necessary to be prepared with analyses of the water. They were told that to bring such evidence forward as would weigh the evidence given on behalf of this rich Water Company, it would be necessary to deposit 100 guineas before any analyst would be induced to leave his office in London to make the analyst report. It might be urged that the Bill provided a compensation reservoir to supply the wants of the inhabitants of the district, but he had carefully studied the Bill, and from the beginning of it to the end there was no provision for compensation. There was a clause to this effect—and it included the whole of the obligation of the Company—that whore the pipes passed those who lived within 100 yards of the main pipe when the pressure was sufficient should be enabled to take water. But who was to know when the pressure was sufficient? He was well acquainted with the district, many of these people were his constituents, and he knew how seriously they would be affected if the Bill were allowed to pass. He thought he had made a clear case, even out of the statements of those who had brought forward the Bill, for dealing with the measure as a matter of principle. He maintained that there was a great question of principle involved. It was a question of might against right. The Bristol Water Company was an enormously rich Company, and unless the 340 inhabitants opposed their scheme they would find themselves robbed of their water for ever. It was a dairy farming district, and those who knew anything of agriculture knew that every drop of water which could be procured was required for dairy operations. He appealed to the House not to allow the Bill to go one step further, and he trusted that hon. Members would not support a measure which was only introduced for the purpose of putting money into the pockets of the Directors and shareholders of one of the richest Companies in the Kingdom, composed of the merchants of Bristol, at the expense of a community who found it very hard indeed at present to make two ends meet.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he did so for this reason. He had some personal knowledge of the water supply of the district, and he recollected that only last year a scheme to supply Bristol with water from the Severn Tunnel was defeated by the Bristol Water Works Company and the Corporation solely on the ground that the existing supply would last for many years. Only within the last few days the Corporation of Bristol hadan offer of 3,000,000 gallons of water at something like 4d. per 1,000 gallons, yet this rich Corporation, instead of accepting that offer from a competing Water Company, preferred to come down and take the water from a poor district where there were hardly any resident landlords, and occupied, as his hon. Friend had pointed out, by a small agricultural population. He begged to second the Amendment, and he hoped that the House would refuse to read the Bill a second time.
§ 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. Llewellyn.)
§ Question proposed, "That he word 'now ' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LEWIS FRY (Bristol, N.)
asked the permission of the House to say a few words as one of the Members for the large city which was deeply interested in the question, and to urge the House not to depart from the usual course of sending Bills of this kind to a Select Committee. It was not necessary for him to say one word as to the vast importance of a 341 sufficient supply of water to a large and increasing community. He wished the House clearly to understand that this Company was the only Company which brought water to the inhabitants of Bristol, and it was required to supply an area containing a population of nearly 300,000 persons. The House would, therefore, see that a sufficient supply of water to a vast community of that sort was one of great importance, and well worthy of the consideration of Parliament. His hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) had pointed out that the present Bill was not promoted by the Corporation of Bristol. He should like the House to know what the relations of the Corporation with the Water Company were. No doubt this was an independent Company, but it had been in negotiation with the Corporation of Bristol more than once for the transfer of its works to the Corporation, and there was little doubt that before long the transfer would be made. It was quite a mistake to suppose that the Corporation of Bristol were opposed to the Preamble of the present Bill. He had the authority of the Town Clerk of Bristol to say that, although the Corporation had presented a Petition against the Bill, it must not be supposed that they were opposed to the Preamble, but that all their requirements might be met by the introduction of clauses in Committee. As to whether Bristol required more water or not, he thought he could very shortly satisfy the House that that was the case. The present requirements of the inhabitants were 8,000,000 gallons of water per diem in summer and 6,500,000 on the average of the year, and last summer there was only a difference of 1,000,000 gallons between the average requirements of the district and the present water supply. He maintained that that margin was far too narrow to be safe, although the Company had taken power to construct a large reservoir which would increase their supply by 9,000,000 gallons. They were, therefore, justified in coming to the House of Commons and asking to be allowed to increase their supply. Reference had been made to the opposition of the Corporation to the Bill which was promoted last year. The Corporation of Bristol then passed a Resolution that they considered there was an urgent 342 necessity for a further supply. Their Resolution was to this effect—That this meeting is of opinion that a further supply of pure and wholesome water is urgently required for the City of Bristol.His hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset(Mr. Llewellyn) said they could have obtained all they required by taking the supply from the Sudbrook Wells. But a Committee of the House of Lords heard the whole of that case, and, after going carefully through the evidence, condemned that supply as unsuitable to the City of Bristol. The counsel for the Company, at the conclusion of the inquiry, asked the Chairman of the Committee to express an opinion as to the suitableness of that source of supply, and this was the reply—" The majority of the Committee are of opinion that it is not a good supply to be taken to the town of Bristol."
§ MR. LEWIS FRY
said, he was quoting from a Report of the proceedings of the Committee of the House of Lords last year, and he thought that was a complete answer to the assertion of his hon. Friend that the Sudbrook supply was suitable for the City of Bristol. There could be no doubt that a further supply was required. He would not trouble the House by going into details as to the mode by which the proposed supply was to be given, nor the situation of the streams and wells proposed to be diverted to which his hon. Friend referred. Of course it would be in the power of a Select Committee to deal with that question as they chose, in the event of the Bill being sent upstairs. If it could have been shown that an injury would be done by the diversion of these streams, it would be in the power of the Committee to impose terms upon the Company or to strike out the clauses referring to them altogether. The House would see that it was impossible to discuss, at the present stage, questions such as that which depended upon scientific evidence. If Bills that came before the House of Commons were to be refused a second reading on grounds of this nature, in which there was no question of public policy, it would be difficult hereafter for any Water Bill, or any other Bill of a similar character, to be passed into law. In regard to the pumping stations to which reference had 343 been made, they would depend on the supply of water underground, the use of which was objected to. Surely that was pre-eminently a scientific question, and it was one upon which, and he said it with great respect, that House was incapable of forming an opinion. It was a mistake to suppose that all the underground water was to be taken, as his hon. Friend seemed to suggest; but if a Water Company was not to have access to underground water, it would be impossible to supply a large city like Bristol with water at all. It would be a most dangerous precedent to throw out a Bill of this description merely on the assertion that it took away the underground water and might injure the wells. If underground water was not to be used, a number of their great towns, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, and Sunderland, could not be supplied, because they depended, to a large extent, on underground water. Therefore, it would be a dangerous proceeding for the House to arrive at a general conclusion that it was improper to have recourse to underground water for the supply of a large town. He would not detain the House longer. He appealed to hon. Members to allow the Bill to be discussed and decided by the only tribunal that was competent to deal with it. The promoters of the Bill were prepared to disprove the statements which had been made by his hon. Friend as to the injury which was likely to be done to the inhabitants of this valley. If the matter were brought before a Select Committee they had a full reply to the case of the opponents, and he would appeal to the House whether it was not a hardship on the inhabitants of a populous city like Bristol to refuse to send the Bill before a tribunal where it could be adequately investigated? It was said that the opponents were unable to incur the cost of appearing before a Committee. The House must not run away with, the idea that they were all of them poor persons. There were among them men of large wealth, including a noble Duke, who was well able to give his assistance to the case of the opponents of the Bill before a Select Committee. The inhabitants of Bristol sincerely trusted that the Bill would receive the sanction of Parliament, and he made an earnest appeal on their 344 behalf to the House not hastily to throw out the measure, but to send it to the only tribunal which was able to deal with it properly.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, he had the honour to represent the commercial and industrial portion of the City of Bristol, which would be seriously affected if the proposal to throw out this Bill on the second reading were carried. It must be apparent to the House that the main reason why the Water Company was obliged to come to Parliament for the means of obtaining an additional supply of water was that the dryness of the season last year had materially altered the condition of things. There had been at least one-third less rainfall than was ordinarily the case, and one-third of the water which was generally used for storage was denied to the Companies who provided great towns with water. In this case the Bristol Water Company had no alternative, but were compelled to come to Parliament with a Bill to enable them to supplement their supply in connection with a large reservoir they had already power to construct, and were, in fact, constructing. If they were allowed to carry out the present scheme their supply would be ample. At the present moment 8,000,000 gallons of water wore required by Bristol daily, and very soon the city would require 10,000,000. Everyone knew that the water supply of a large town was a most important thing to consider, but he wished to speak more particularly on behalf of the commercial and industrial classes. If the supply of water fell short the trade and industry of the city would be very much deranged. The Water Company proposed to take a large portion of the supply from underground, and his own impression was that in most of these cases the supply was taken, not from the surface, but underground. He ventured to say, as a geologist, that his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) was wrong in asserting that the taking of water from underground would affect the surface supply. In this case the Company would take it from the new red sandstone, and no effect whatever would be produced upon the surface water. No doubt it would have an effect upon the two streams which, had been referred to; 345 but that was a question which might easily be dealt with in Committee. He thought the wisest thing the House could do was to place the matter in the hands of a Select Committee, and allow them to come to a decision in the usual way. It was contended that the people of Bristol ought to be provided with, a supply from Sudbrook. Now, he ventured to affirm what his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. L. Fry) had said—that the Committee of the House of Lords objected to the Bill last year on the ground that the supply from Sudbrook was not suitable for the town of Bristol. In the words of the Committee, it would be a dangerous experiment to supply the City of Bristol with water from that source. That, he thought, was a sufficient answer to the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset. There was, however, another reason, and that was that the Great Western Railway Company would not permit that water to be brought through the Severn Tunnel; and, therefore, the Company would only be able to get it by the expenditure of, at least, £1,000,000, and he need not say that that was utterly out of the question. He knew the valley to which his hon. Friend referred, and he was of opinion that, as a rule, it suffered far more from an over-supply of water than from anything else. It would, therefore, be benefited by the carrying out of this scheme rather than otherwise. On these general grounds he hoped the House would permit the Bill to go before a Committee, and not allow it to be thrown out upon the second reading. If a proposal of that nature wore carried, they would convert the House itself into a tribunal for trying all measures of this sort.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he hoped that, in spite of the hon. Geologist, the House would not support the second reading of this Bill. It should require greater evidence than the speech of the hon. Member as a geologist to convince them that the taking away of the water from this valley would not injure the supply to the inhabitants.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, he was unable to understand, if they took away all the underground water, that the sur- 346 face water would still remain. It was said that if Parliament refused to give this water they would injure the trade and industry of Bristol. That might or might not be true; but the passing of the Bill would absolutely destroy the whole of the butter and cheese-making industry of a large valley. This was part and parcel of the great question they had before them a week ago—whether they should or should not increase the rights of these Companies. He thought the time had come when Parliament ought to be very jealous as to the character of the privileges it conferred in this respect. He was somewhat interested in this particular Company, because he happened to be a shareholder in the Bristol Water Works, but in spite of that interest he did not think a case had been made out to justify Parliament in passing this Bill. Water could be obtained from other source? and he thought the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) had clearly pointed to at least one of them. His hon. Friend had further shown that the construction of these works would inflict irreparable injury upon an agricultural district without adequately supplying the wants of Bristol. There were other sources to which the Company could go, and as it was a wealthy Company he did not think that there would be any injustice in rejecting the Bill. It was altogether a question of money, and he did not see why the Company should resort to this source of supply and ruin the industry of a valley in order to obtain a cheap supply of water for a city well able to provide for itself in other ways without injury to anyone.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
expressed a hope that the House would not sanction the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee. It would appear that the inhabitants of the Axbridge Valley were the only persons who could oppose the Bill before a Committee as to the water to be taken from their valley, and as the poor villagers in the valley could not protect themselves it was the duty of the House to see that the Company was prevented from interfering with the water supply. The inhabitants, consisting of poor villagers, were too poor to offer an effective opposition to the scheme in Committee; the Rural Sanitary Authority wore prohibited by law from spending money in that way, 347 so that practically all methods were closed unless the House interfered on behalf of the persons who were affected by the Bill. It was said by those who supported the Bill that this was the only Company which supplied water to Bristol. That was true, but it must be remembered that they opposed a competitor last year, because they objected to allow any other Company to be there. It was said that the Water Company wanted water, but last year, when they were threatened with competition, their responsible officer gave evidence that the existing water supply was amply sufficient for the purposes of the city. It was said that the Company were going to sell their undertaking to the Corporation of Bristol. That might be true also, arid no doubt they were desirous of enhancing the value of what they intended to sell. The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. L. Fry) said it would cost £1,000,000 to get a supply from Sudbrook; but even if that were so, and that the supply would be a benefit to Bristol, why did the promoters oppose the Company, which last year was ready to spend the required sum? On behalf of the villagers who could not represent themselves, and the Sanitary Authority who had no means of representing themselves, he asked the House to reject the Bill.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
said, he was anxious, as one of the Members for the City of Bristol, and not from his position in connection with the Board of Trade, to ask the House to listen to him for a few minutes on the subject of this Bill. He could not agree in the correctness of the assumption of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). He thought that the hon. Member, if he had listened more carefully to the speech of his hon. Colleague (Mr. L. Fry), would have found that he was wrong in assuming that there was no objection to an alternative supply from the Severn Tunnel. It had been shown that a Committee of the other House which sat last year investigated the proposal to supply that water to the City of Bristol, and reported that it was water that should not be supplied to Bristol—in fact, that it was of a quality that could not be utilized. No other answer had been given in the course of the de- 348 bate to the demand of Bristol for an increased water supply. It was a demand which could not be properly met in that House by the assertion that it was merely a desire on the part of the Bristol Water Company to increase the value of their property. The Corporation of Bristol last year distinctly recorded their opinion that the growing population of the city required an increased water supply. Further, the hon. Member for Northampton had stated that another reason for rejecting the Bill on the second reading was that the inhabitants of the district from which it was proposed that the water supply should be taken could not be adequately represented before the Committee, owing to the expense it would entail. But his hon. Colleague (Mr. L. Fry) had stated that the opposition was not confined to the poor owners. As a matter of fact, a Duke was at the head of the opposition; and if men in that position could not pay for having their views represented before a Select Committee, he confessed he did not know how it was possible for anyone to have his views represented. How far the wants of this small rural district were affected by the proposals contained in the present Bill could only be discussed and decided by a Select Committee. How to reserve to the district a sufficient supply of water was certainly a question of clauses, and such a supply ought to be secured to it before a gallon of water was taken away. If it was a question of compensation for property of which any individual was deprived, that also was a question that could be measured by the ordinary tribunal; and, under all the circumstances, he asked the House not to reject the second reading of the Bill, which provided, he believed, the only practicable mode of supplying the growing necessities of this great population with pure water.
§ COLONEL HILL (Bristol, S.)
said, he desired very briefly, as the Representative of one of the Divisions of Bristol which consisted very largely of the working classes, and was very poor, to express their views in regard to this Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) had drawn a very pathetic picture of a rich Company taking away a poor man's water, but it was necessary that the poor people of Bristol, of whom there were a very large number, should have a good and proper 349 supply. He thought the House would take it for granted that there was a want of water in Bristol. The Corporation itself had said so; and it was absurd to put forward the reply of the Secretary of the Company, under the torture of cross-examination by one of the most clever counsel of the day, as a proof that the existing supply was adequate. No doubt the answer of the Secretary applied to the existing supply at the time his evidence was given; but it was proposed by the present Bill to make provision for a supply for some years to come. It was absolutely necessary, so far as the people of Bristol were concerned, that they should be properly supplied with water. The Sudbrook question was entirely put aside by the decision of the Committee in the House of Lords. No hon. Member would desire that Bristol should be supplied with water from an improper source. It was said that the Company were going to take away all the water from a particular valley, but that was a question which could not possibly be entered into in that House. It was a question which must be investigated by a Select Committee, and, if proved before that Committee, care would be taken that the inhabitants of the district were not deprived of their proper supply of water. They were all neighbours of his own, and he should be the last man to come forward in that House and advocate their being deprived of their water supply. If it could be shown that any inconvenience would be suffered, or that the inhabitants would sustain any deprivation, the Water Company would be the first to yield to the evidence and undertake to make proper provision. As had been shown by his hon. Colleague, there was no danger of the case being put improperly before the Committee because nobody was able to appear in opposition to the Bill. Therefore, he hoped the House would read the Bill a second time, and do what it ordinarily did in the case of Private Bills of this kind—namely, send it upstairs to be thoroughly sifted by a Select Committee, who would have evidence before them which the House itself was unable to hear.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said, it appeared to him that if hon. Members had come to the consideration of this question with an 350 open mind they could have no hesitation as to what course ought to be taken on the present occasion. The right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had made no reply whatever to the statement made from the Benches opposite by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex (Major Rasch), on the authority of information which had just reached him by telegram, that the West Gloucestershire Company were prepared to supply Bristol with 3,000,000 gallons of water daily at a charge of 4d. per 1,000 gallons. The right hon. Baronet had passed over that statement in silence. Two arguments had been used in the debate, one by the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill, and another by the hon. Member who moved its second reading, which ought to have considerable weight with the House in any Division that was taken on the question. The hon. Member for Somerset said the persons who were chiefly interested in the question were principally small owners and occupiers of land who had sunk wells for themselves, and that their supply of water would in all probability be cut off by the works proposed to be constructed by the Bristol Water Company. On the other hand, the House was told by the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill that the Bristol Water Company would in all probability shortly complete an arrangement with the Corporation of Bristol for the sale of their undertaking. Now, he thought that these were the strongest possible arguments why the House should reject the Bill and refuse the powers asked for. The House had been constantly granting monopolies to local Companies who, when established, used them against the interest and well-being of the community. In this case, if the Bill were passed, when the Company completed the sale of their works to the Corporation, it would be found that they had increased the value of their shares to an enormous amount, and the locality would be saddled with the increased expense. He hoped the House would be careful as to what it did, and personally he had no hesitation in voting with the hon. Member for Somerset for the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, that the House was always anxious to most the wishes of 351 localities upon matters exclusively concerning themselves. Bristol was one of the largest cities in the Empire, and contained more than 250,000 inhabitants. It asked, through its Representatives, two on that side of the House and two on the other, to give this Bill a proper hearing before a Select Committee. Speaking as a Gloucestershire Member, who lived in the vicinity, and knew that the want of water was badly felt, he thought it would be scarcely decent to refuse the population the right to be heard before a Select Committee. The hon. Member for North Somerset, in the able speech in which he moved the rejection of the Bill, said that the water supply in the villages from which the supply was proposed was at present an endless supply.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
begged the hon. Gentleman's pardon. What he had said was that it could be obtained elsewhere.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
Very well; but wherever the Company proposed to obtain it they would be certain to be met with local opposition, and in the end they would be able to secure no additional water supply at all. The question was, whore was the water to come from? Nobody questioned that Bristol ought to have an additional water supply, but the argument was—" Do not take it from, us, but from our neighbours." He thought that was a question which ought to be left to a Select Committee, which was the only competent tribunal to enter into it. He hoped the House would listen to the prayer, not of those 160 children of Queen Elizabeth's School who had been imported into the argument for the rejection of the Bill, but to the prayer of 160,000 poor people who needed this water.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
remarked, that the whole of the 600 Petitioners who had signed the Petition against the Bill were constituents of his. His acquaintance with them was probably not so intimate as that of the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn), who resided in the district, but he entirely agreed with the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member. He wished, however, to say a word in answer to the speech of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. His 352 right hon. Friend passed over the telegram which the hon. Member for North Somerset read to the House, and which only reached him that day, to the effect that the West Gloucester Water Company were in a position to supply any deficiency in the Bristol water supply within a week from the date of the order. If that were not sufficient, there was then the other supply which had been pointed out—namely, the water from the Severn Tunnel. He thought it was clear that there was some misapprehension in the matter. They were told that the water from the Severn Tunnel was not suitable to the wants of the district; but what was the evidence of the City Analyst of Bristol before the Committee of the House of Lords? His statement was that the water was quite good enough and fit for Bristol. Nor did the City Analyst stand alone. The officer of the Board of Health also analyzed the water, and came to the same conclusion. So did six other analysts of distinction, among them being Dr. Wakleyn, and all united in the opinion that the water was thoroughly suitable for the population of Bristol. It was a misfortune that in the present state of the law the Rural Sanitary Authority, who had an important interest in the matter, was unable to spend a single 6d. for supporting or opposing any scheme of this kind. But, so far as he was able to ascertain, all of them were distinctly opposed to this Bill. The position of the matter was this. There existed in Somersetshire a happy smiling valley, not of great landowners, but of small owners, who were industriously engaged in agricultural operations, and required a water supply. On the other hand, there was a great and powerful Company, who were anxious to enter the district and take not only the surface water, but whole streams which would disappear for ever. It was a Company which claimed the right to obtain 7 per cent upon the large sum of money they were willing to expend. If ever there was a case in which the House ought to interfere, this was one. He entirely agreed that, as a rule, Bills of this kind ought to go before a Select Committee, and that it required exceptional circumstances to justify the House in taking the matter into its own hands. He also admitted that a great city like Bristol 353 did require to have a water supply thoroughly provided for it, but it had been shown that if the Bill were rejected there were other means by which a certain and regular supply could be secured for Bristol without disturbing this district. The opposition to the Bill came from hundreds of poor men who had subscribed towards the expense small sums ranging from 6d. to £1, and under all the circumstances he asked the House to take the exceptional course of rejecting the Bill.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland (Mr. Fenwick) with close attention, and he thought he was not doing the hon. Member an injustice when he said that he had come to the consideration of the question wholly disembarrassed with any previous knowledge of the subject. All the remarks the hon. Member had made wore made on the statements he had heard in the course of the discussion. One hon. Member read a telegram he had received that afternoon, and it afforded sufficient material to enable the hon. Member to pronounce a judicial opinion upon the whole matter. Another hon. Member said that this was a contest between two sources of water supply, one of which had already been condemned by a Committee of the House of Lords last year, while some engineer considered it to be a very good source of supply. Those statements were absolutely contradictory of each other, but the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division was perfectly ready to declare which, in his judgment, was right. The hon. Member had never heard a word before the debate took place about the merits of the case, and yet he was ready now to give a vote expressly on the judgment he had formed. If that was to be the temper in which the House was prepared, in future, to consider Private Bills, he confessed that he looked with terror to the future decisions of the House.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would bear in mind that he had said the strongest argument which could be used against the second reading of the Bill was the proposed sale of the Water Company's interest to the Corporation of Bristol.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the hon. Member had heard that statement in the course of the debate also. Here was a question involving a great contradiction of evidence. Was the water supply of Bristol ample or not. That was one question. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] Yes; the petitioners declared that it was inadequate. The hon. Member for North Somerset said that it was adequate.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
said, that he had quoted the evidence of the Secretary of the Company last year before a Committee Upstairs, in which that gentleman stated that not only was the supply sufficient for the present, but that it would be ample for years to come.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said the remark of the hon. Gentleman entirely confirmed his impression; whoever made the statement, the allegation was a question of fact on which there was contradictory evidence. At any rate it was desirable that it should be inquired into by the Authorities of the House, who would decide according to the merits of the evidence. Then again as to the supply. Was the supply of water good or not? Was the House prepared to follow the example of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division, and pronounce an opinion upon that disputed fact. Again, as to the effect of the taking away of the water from the valley in which the hon. Member for North Somerset was interested. Would or would it not injure the valley? That was another point in dispute which could be examined upstairs, and which could not be properly dealt with by the House. He had nothing to add to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; but he confessed that he was much surprised by one of the arguments, which came from the opposite side of the House, that this was a contest between the poor and the rich. That argument was afterwards taken up by the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division. But was it a contest between the poor and the rich? It was a contest legitimately carried on between the consumers of Bristol and the persons who were interested in this valley—at the head of whom stood a noble Duke.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
said the noble Duke in question did not live within 400 miles of the place. It was not till four weeks after the subscription list 355 was started that the Duke gave a subscription.
§ MR. COURTNEY
remarked that the noble Duke could not live everywhere, but he owned a farm in the valley, he Lad petitioned against the Bill, and he would have a right to appear before the Committee in opposition to the Bill. But there was another side to the picture. There wore the poor consumers of water in Bristol on the one side, and this smiling, happy valley, as it had been described by the hon. Member for Wells (Sir Richard Paget) opposite. It was said that this was a rich Company, and the hon. Baronet said they proposed to make 7 per cent, on all the capital they expended. It was perfectly true that the Bill gave a maximum of 7 per cent, on the capital; but hon. Members knew that a Bill was passed last Session to provide that all new capital to be supplied in this way should be sold by auction, so that the interest actually realized on the capital expended should be the current interest in the market. The price at which it was sold would be regulated by the commercial value of the Stock. Therefore, the whole of the hon. Member's argument on that point fell to the ground. The real interest was the interest of the consumers of the water, and that was a question which could only be dealt with by a Committee Upstairs. He, therefore, earnestly implored the House not to depart from the well understood practice; but to send the Bill Upstairs to be considered by a Select Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 130: Majority 18.—(Div. List, No. 28.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.