HC Deb 04 March 1891 vol 351 cc190-6

Order for Second Reading read.

*(4.50.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

I do not propose to detain the House more than a very few minutes while I explain the nature and object of the Bill, the Second Reading of which I rise to move. The object of the Bill is to prevent, at the present time, an increase of the water rates of the Metropolis by reason merely of the increase of the annual or rateable value that may be unconnected with water supply, and which may involve no commensurate increase in the consumption of water. We propose to declare that except for adequate reason the rate to be charged for the financial year shall not be increased because of a rise in the rateable value. I understand that Her Majesty's Government are willing to allow the Second Reading of the Bill, and that it shall be referred to a Committee if we on this side of the House are willing to allow the other Water Bills which appear on the Paper to receive similar treatment. I may say, on behalf of my London Liberal colleagues, that we shall gladly fall in with that view. But it is very important that this Bill should be referred to a Committee at once. London has been waiting a long time to have its water grievance settled, and now that we have a County Council, and that the water question has been raised on a Bill which has already been read a second time, and referred to a Hybrid Committee upstairs, appointed for the purpose of dealing with the whole question of handing over the control of the water supply to a public authority, we think that this is the time when we should endeavour to prevent the Water Companies raising their rates on the quinquennial revaluation which will come into opera- tion on the 6th of next month, while at the same time we desire to prevent their raising the capital value of their undertakings. Since 1869 the Water Companies have had quinquennial re-valuations, and although in the meantime the rateable value of new property-has always been allowed, the result has been that on these quinquennial re-valuations since that year, independently of the year 1891, the Water Companies have, estimating their charges on those re-valuations, increased their capital value to the extent of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 by increasing their charges, independently of any increase of houses and water supply. This means that, taking the moderate estimate of 4 per cent., the income of the Water Companies has been increased by at least£160,000 a year, while their capital value is increased to the extent of £4,000,000. We are now to have in force a re-valuation on the 6th of April, and that at a time when a Bill dealing with the entire question of the London Water Supply has passed its Second Reading and been referred to a Committee. The effect of the present re-valuation would be a gross rateable increase of £1,500,000, and taking off that sum £250,000 for the normal or average yearly increase by reason of new buildings, and a further £250,000 for the increase in the value of gasworks, railways, and so on, upon which the Water Companies cannot make an increased charge, the companies are left with a net increase of capital value of one million of money just at the time when a public authority should be taking the Water Companies over. I might enter into a lengthy argument on this question of re-valuation; but as my time is short, I do not wish to run the risk of losing the Second Reading of my Bill, nor do I desire to excite any opposition on the part of hon. Members. I hope to hear that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, if he be in charge of this matter, will be able to give the House an assurance that this Bill shall be sent to a Committee along with the other Bills upon the Paper. We do not desire to give the Water Companies the power to levy an increased charge, nor to obtain the right to a large increase in the value of their property in the quarter ending the 30th of June. I may add, what I believe is pretty well known, that the West Middlesex Water Company have already signified their intention not to raise their water rates on the re-valuation, and I believe they have further stated their intention to allow a decrease where any decrease of value has taken place. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Theodore Fry) is going to move the rejection of the Bill. I hope he is not, and that he will be willing to allow it to go to a Committee where, I have no doubt, it will receive full and fair consideration. I think I have now said enough to show that this is an urgent matter, and that the measure now before the House is very different from the ordinary Water Bills which, on being introduced to this House, usually take a long time to deal with. This Bill can be dealt with at once. What we desire is to save the ratepayers of London £1,000,000, and we know that it is in the power of the Government to assist to save them this amount if they see fit to do so.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Causton.)


I have only risen to say that the arrangement mentioned by the hon. Member (Mr. Causton) is one which I am prepared to adopt; but I only make this statement on the understanding that, by allowing the Bill to be read a second time, we shall not thereby be committing the House to the principle of the measure. We only assent to the Second Reading pro formâ for the purpose of allowing the Bill to be considered by the Committee. As there is a desire to get the Bill before the Committee, I shall not attempt to go further into the question or to answer the arguments put forward by the hon. Member.

(4 49.) MR. THEODORE FRY (Darlington)

I do not rise to discuss this question in the interests of the Metropolitan constituencies, among whom it is not so popular as has been represented in some quarters; but as I have the honour to represent a large body of provincial Water Companies, which are deeply interested in these water questions, and an Association which has been formed for the purpose of attending to their interests, I wish to point out to the House that if a measure of this kind were allowed to pass into law in the interests of the Metropolis it would very soon be found to affect the interests of the provincial Water Companies throughout the country. The Bill which has already been referred to the Hybrid Committee, and the Metropolitan Water Supply Bill, which stands tenth on to-day's list, both embody the principles set forth in this Bill, and therefore it seems undesirable that this Bill should be thrown out altogether. Hitherto Parliament has always affirmed the principle that the water rate should be charged on the valuation of the houses, and not in any other way. One of the most objectionable features of this proposal is that the Water Companies' charges are to be reduced when the rating goes down, but are never to be increased when the rating goes up. Now that is manifestly unfair. The tendency of the Bill will be to lessen the burden of the water rate in regard to certain classes of houses, for the water charge may be fixed when the value of a house is very small, and immemediately after the property may become many times more valuable. We know that this rating question has been referred to many Select Committees, with the result, as I have already stated, that Parliament has affirmed the principle that the water rate should be charged on the valuation of the house. Water has always been considered an absolute necessity, and the finest mansions in London would be valueless if they had no water supply. If Her Majesty's Government have decided that this measure shall go to the Hybrid Committee I will not challenge a Division; but it ought to be definitely understood that the principle of the Bill will not be affirmed by any decision which may be arrived at to-day. As a matter of form, I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, in order that we may hear from the right hon. Gentle- man opposite what the intentions of the Government are with reference to this measure. My hon. Friend near me has argued as if the eight London Water Companies were merely eight different persons; but let me remind him that the great balk of the shares have changed hands, and have been bought at their market value. This Bill is a proposal to lessen the value of those shares. It means confiscation, and I hope the House will be very careful indeed not to affirm a principle of that kind.

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. Theodore Fry.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

(5.7.) MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw that Motion as soon as possible, for it is only reasonable that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. The object of the Bill is to prevent the companies raising the value of their property just as it is about to be taken over by a Public Authority. It is far better that this matter should go to the Committee for examination, and I rejoice that the Government are willing thus to refer it.


When first I came to consider this Bill I thought it was not one of those Bills which it would be well to refer to the Committee which is going to sit upon the whole question. But, upon further consideration and examination of the Bill, I came to the conclusion that, on the whole, it would be best that the Committee should have all the questions involved in what is known as the "London water question" before it when it comes to deliberate upon the subject. I entirely concur with what my hon. and gallant Friend has said with regard to the position of the Government and of the House in regard to the principle of the Bill. It is to be understood on the part of the Govern- ment, and on behalf the House generally, that in reading the Bill a second time we do so simply with a view of the whole matter being brought before the Hybrid Committee, and not at all because we approve the Bill. Taking the Bill alone, I should have a great deal to say with regard to the principle on which it is based; but it is unnecessary for me to enter into that now, inasmuch as the Government do not wish to ask the House to enter into a discussion on the principle of the Bill. No doubt it is true that the main question which the Select Committee will have to consider will be whether or not the undertakings of the Water Companies shall be taken over by some public trust and administered in the public interest. That being so, it is only right that the question of raising revenue on the basis of the assessment which is shortly to come into force should be a matter for the consideration of the Committee. I believe, therefore, the House will not consider it unreasonable that this Bill should go to the Committee. The hon. Member for Southwark was somewhat in error in saying that since 1869 the companies have been getting the benefit of the quinquennial valuation. Up to the year 1885 the companies had the right to raise their charges year by year as the value of the premises increased; but in 1885 that power was taken away from the companies by Parliament, and the companies have to wait for the quinquennial re-valuation before they can raise their charges. It would, in my judgment, be unfair to take away that power from the companies this year, just after the period of the quinquennial valuation, as they have not had the power of raising their rates until this year. However, I will not now discuss that question. I will merely ask the House to agree to refer this Bill to the Committee, which will have before it the other Bills.

MR. WIGGIN (Staffordshire, Handsworth)

I shall support the suggestion as to reading the Bill a second time, and sending it to the Committee if it is understood that the House is not committed thereby to the principle of the Bill.

(5.14.) CAPTAIN BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

I think, it ridiculous that the four Water Bills should be sent to the Committee separately, for all the fees and expenses will have to be paid in each case. It would be much wiser to consolidate them as one Bill, and thus save considerable expense. The whole question could in those circumstances be equally well brought before the Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Select Committee on the Metropolitan Water Commission Bill.