HC Deb 04 March 1891 vol 351 cc196-9

Order for Second Reading read.

(5.18.) MR. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)

I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time with the object of referring it to the Select Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

*(5.19.) MR. H. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

My colleagues and myself will assent to this course, but it must be borne in mind we do not therefore pledge ourselves to the principle of the Bill.

MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

I think the Bill ought not to leave the House without some discussion. It seems to me that the measure is one entirely in favour of the rich and of the wealthy tradesmen of London, and very detrimental to the interests of the working classes. In Berlin the system of measuring and charging for water by meter has been adopted, and it has been found necessary to employ an Inspector for every 400 meters. Therefore, if the system is adopted in London it will be necessary to appoint no fewer than 1,600 Inspectors. The Bill, moreover, while it compels the companies to go to the expense of £3,000,000 sterling in securing meters, provides no means by which to raise the money, and though it compels them to put meters in the various houses of London it imposes no obligation on the consumers to use them. Further, the Bill may necessitate land- lords in London putting in their leases the amount of water to be used by their tenants. In short, it is of such a complicated and confiscating character that I am surprised to find any of my friends on this side of the House supporting the Bill. I protest against its proceeding further.


I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. It is admitted by the hon. Member opposite to be bad in principle, and it ought not to be sent to a Select Committee. The Bill is eminently one in favour of the rich as against the poor. What will be really the effect of a measure of this kind? Many of the wealthy houses in London are shut up for several months in the year, during which time little or no water is used in them; and if a system of payment by meter is adopted, the charge upon the owners of such houses as these will be comparatively small. A rich man, who is an hon. Member of this House, to day told me that he had refused to be put on the Committee to consider this question, because the result of such a Bill as this would be to put so much money in his pocket, that he felt that he could not fairly support it. This fact alone shows how much the Bill is in the interest of the rich. If the Water Companies lose money by the metre system in consequence of the closing of the houses of the wealthy during a certain season of the year, they will be obliged, in order to secure their income and pay their dividend, to make a heavier charge on the masses of the community and the poor. There can be no doubt that if water is charged by meter the price will have to be very much larger than is paid at the present time, and there will be a constant endeavour to limit its use in order to escape charge. For instance, in No. 44 meter district, Cornwall Road, Brixton Hill, the water rate is now on the average £1 3s. 9d. per house per annum, but if the charge is by meter system at the rate of 1s. per 1,000 gallons, the rate will be increased to about £2 16s. 2d. per annum. In these circumstances, the water rate will be enormously increased on the poor if the companies are allowed to charge by meter. Further than that, the Bill would tend to limit the use of water for sanitary purposes, and thus endanger the public health. The Bill, therefore, is a very mischievous one. The cost of the meters, again, will have to be borne by the consumers, and this is not an unimportant consideration. The principle also of the supply of water by meter is an entirely new one. Before I conclude, I will remind the House that an important official connected with the Local Government Board—Mr. Stoneham—gave evidence before a Select Committee on this point, and in answer to a question said that if water was supplied to London by meter it would certainly lead to a curtailment of the power of cleansing the houses of the poor, which is not very efficiently exercised under present circumstances; that under a meter system insufficient water would be used for sanitary purposes, which would lead to an increase of disease; and that the sewers would become stagnant, resulting probably in an outbreak of cholera. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will not hesitate to reject the measure.

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."

(5.28.) MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I believe the meter system has already been tried, and been found to be unworkable. I hold that under no circumstances ought the House to consent to the supply of water by meter, unless accompanied by a maximum charge per year; for if water is to be thus charged it is only natural that the poor should try and use as little as possible. The hon. Member for Darlington has fully shown that the Bill is in the interests of the rich, and to the disadvantage of the poor, and I hope the House will think twice before it adopts its principle. I am not known to be particularly friendly to the Water Companies, but I do not know upon what principle the cost should be thrown upon them of supplying a community of 5,000,000 with meters. These and other questions, however, are matters which ought to be discussed in Committee. The House has little material before it to guide it in the matter; but such material as it has is of a character to induce it to reject the Second Reading.

It being half an hour after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday.