§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
moved that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months. He said, that though he did not wish unnecessarily to deal with the rights of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company, he moved the rejection of the Bill upon good and substantial grounds, and he moved it on behalf of the riparian 1517 owners, to whom an injustice was being done by the Bill. He had thought it his duty to move the rejection of the Second Heading rather than wait until the Bill went before the Committee, and he thus took the first opportunity in his power of explaining to the House the operation of the Bill of which he complained. He would like to call the attention of the House to what was involved in this controversy. The River Rede was a small river about 25 miles long, and the point at which the Company joined was about 16 miles from the junction of the River Tyne. The body of riparian owners were small, and that fact was his justification for moving the rejection of this Bill. They were not a strong body of owners; they had not organised their opposition, and for that reason their opposition had not been fairly put before the Committee when the Bill was considered by the Committee of the House of Lords. On the other hand, they had a powerful private Water Company or Corporation working to supply water as a private trading Company with the object of putting a dividend into the pockets of their shareholders. The Company had a capital of no less than £1,277,000, the shares in which were fully paid up. There was a 4 per cent. Debenture Stock, a 5 per cent. Preference Stock, an Ordinary and a Deferred Stock, and this Company for a long series of years had paid 8 per cent. upon their Ordinary and 5 per cent. upon their Deferred Stock. As he did not wish to take up the time of the House longer than he could help, he would not enter into details more than he was obliged; but he desired to show, as he thought he could show, that the Bill in its present form was establishing a most important and dangerous precedent in upsetting a right at Common Law that had existed for the past 50 years. He would just point out how this was done. This was not the first Act this Company had asked for, for they obtained an Act called the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Act in 1889 which authorised a reservoir upon the same site on which the present Bill sought to construct it. Under the Bill of 1889 there was to be a dam of no less than 15 feet high in which there was to be a fish-bath, as the River Rede was a river in which a great many salmon were killed every 1518 year, and being a salmon river the rights of the riparian owners were very important. He was trustee to a lady who was one of the riparian owners, but she and the other riparian owners did not fight this particular Bill because the dam to be constructed was only 15 feet high, and the fish-bath to be constructed was to be so constructed that it would not interfere with the salmon getting up the river. In addition to that, the Bill of 1889 contained a short clause, which was so important that he would venture to read it to the House. It was as follows:—Provided that the owners and occupiers and all other persons interested in or injuriously affected by the taking of water by the Company from the River Rede shall, unless otherwise agreed, be entitled to claim and receive compensation in money for any loss, damage, or injury sustained by them, according to the provisions of the 6th section of the Lands Clauses Act, 1817.Here power was given to the riparian owners, in case subsequent damage was proved, to go to a Court of Law, and if they could prove damage to claim and obtain money compensation. This Bill, however, proposed to take away that power, and that was the point he wished to bring prominently before the House. It was in consequence of that clause being included in the Act of 1889 that the riparian owners at that time did not oppose the Bill when it was before Parliament. Though the owners were not then satisfied with the water compensation, they were satisfied with the power given them of taking their case to the Court, and, if subsequent damage was proved, of obtaining money compensation. But what did the present Bill propose? In the first place, instead of the 15 feet it proposed to erect a dam 77 feet high, or five times the height of the dam proposed under the Act of 1889. Anyone interested in the matter and reading the evidence given before the Committee would see there was not the least necessity, either so far as the water went or the requirements of the district were concerned, for a dam of that description. If such a dam were constructed the result would be that the valuable water rights of the riparian owners would be absolutely destroyed. He ought to state that the Company had agreed to give a sum of £3,850 to the Tyne Fishery Conservancy, and with regard to that he 1519 would like to point out that the riparian owners would not necessarily get one penny of that money. The money would be spent, and he admitted it would be properly spent on the north side of the river, and there was no provision for compensating the riparian owners. But the crowning injustice of all was, by Clause 14, Section 9, to take from the riparian owners the power of going to a Court of Law and asking for money compensation if subsequent injury were inflicted upon them. He submitted this House was not the proper tribunal to assess money compensation, and he also submitted that a Parliamentary Committee was not the proper tribunal to assess money compensation, but the proper tribunal was the tribunal that had always hitherto existed—namely, a Court of Law to which every person who felt himself injured could go. The other matters were very small, but this was the grievance that had led him to take up the time of the House, and he trusted the House would pause before they allowed this injustice to be justified. No harm could be done to anyone by allowing the clause to remain, because it was obvious that the riparian owners would not bring any action unless they had good grounds to go upon; therefore he asked that the clause be reinserted in the Bill, and because it was not he moved the rejection of the Bill. There were other details, but he would not trouble the House with them; but there was one point, that with respect to the compensation water, which he was bound to mention—
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
I rise, Sir, to a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether the hon. Member can move the rejection of this Bill? As I understand, the hon. Member is a trustee himself for one of the riparian owners; in the proceedings he has appeared before the House of Lords as a petitioner, and he is now asking this House to insert a clause in a matter in which he is clearly an interested person. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether an hon. Member, who is himself interested in legislation, no matter how remote, is in a position to make the Motion he has made?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
No matter how closely an hon. Member may be interested in a Bill he may try to persuade the 1520 House to his own way of thinking, but whether it is possible for him to vote is another matter.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
Even if he receives no pay and holds purely an honorary office?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
But I say it is quite competent for an hon. Member, however interested he may be, to move the rejection of a Bill which he thinks militates against his interest, however particular or close that interest may be.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
said, he would resume his argument after the somewhat extraordinary and unnecessary interruption. He stated ho was trustee to one of the riparian owners, and he was glad to say so again, and no doubt, so far as his trusteeship went, he was an interested party; but he had yet to learn the House was prepared to sanction any legislation that would prevent any body of persons from seeking the just and lawful remedies of a Court of Law. He desired to refer, only for a moment, to the compensation water which this Bill provided, and which was not adequate. The Rede was a small salmon river, and a dam of 77 feet high would destroy the value of the river. They did not ask for any compensation now; all they said was that the Bill should be allowed to pass in such a form that, in the event of any damage being done hereafter, the riparian owners should be able to go to the Court to prove their case. That was the precedent that had been established, and which was in the Act of 1889, and what they asked was that it should be included in the present Bill. It was shown that the water compensation would not be sufficiently adequate, but the water and money compensation had always been kept distinct. He had done his duty in moving the rejection of the Bill, and he trusted the House would hesitate before taking away a legal right that had existed for 50 years, and which, on the whole, had operated with justice. He would only say, in conclusion, that the riparian owners might be a small and insignificant body of persons, but in these days of agricultural depression their riparian rights were of very considerable value. When the Water Company could pay 8 or 9 per cent. in dividends, it made it all the more 1521 evident that they were depriving the riparian owners of most important rights.
§ 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. Seton-Karr.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I rise, in the interests of the time of this House, to protest against the proceeding of the hon. Member opposite. Let us see what it is. The hon. Member, as I understand, represents certain private interests which have been fully heard upon Petition in the House of Lords—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
At all events the Bill was before the Committee for six days, and the proper and legitimate course is that a Bill of this kind should be heard and dealt with by a Committee of this House. It happens, no doubt, sometimes that large public interests, such as those which arose on the Thames Conservancy the other day, are at stake, and all these will be considered in a Private Bill for which there is an exceptional procedure. But what is to happen to the time of this House and its business if every individual petitioner who thinks his case has not been heard sufficiently in six days before a Committee of the House of Lords, is to be at liberty to come and raise a Debate here for the purpose of rejecting a Bill upon the Second Reading. And upon what sort of allegation? That the House of Lords, of all bodies in the world, has been regardless of private interests as regards property, and that it has violated all established rules which secure those rights of property; and upon an allegation of that sort we are to waste the time of this House in the manner proposed by the hon. Member. Though it has been ruled by you, Sir, that the hon. Member is entitled to make this Motion I think this House is entitled immediately to dispose of it, and the hon. Member having made that statement, and the House being in possession of that statement, I hope no further time will be occupied but a vote of the House at once taken.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman complained that Private Bills were discussed in this House. He had never known a Session when there had been so many Private Bills on Government nights. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that for several years after he (Lord R. Churchill) entered Parliament Private Bills never came on upon Government nights.
§ An hon. MEMBER: They are all Government nights now.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
said that of late years a good many Private Bills had come on on Government nights, and so, to this extent, Government business was interfered with. He thought the sooner they reverted to the old practice of not taking Private Bills on Government nights the better it would be for Government business.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, he would not detain the House for more than a moment or two, but this question of the supply of water was one of life and death practically to his constituents and about 400,000 inhabitants round the City of Newcastle and Gateshead. The hon. Member had stated that there was no necessity for this increased supply. As a matter of fact, during the drought of last summer, from the month of September in last year to the month of February in this—
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
admitted it was an exceptional year, but during those six months the consumption of water had to be stopped by one-half, and every householder had his supply cut off after 6 o'clock every evening.
§ MR. FREEMAN-MITFORD (Warwick, Stratford)
Because the Company had not availed themselves of the powers they acquired in 1889.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
said, that the reason was because the Company found that the powers they acquired in 1889 were not sufficient, and therefore they asked for these further powers, which were an absolute necessity for the health and life of the community in that district. The hon. Member had endeavoured to raise a feeling against the Tyne Water 1523 Company, but for 40 years that Company had paid on an average not more than 5 per cent., and it charged a less price, he should think, than any Corporation which supplied water—namely, only 4½d. per 1,000 gallons. On these grounds certainly it was not right that the hon. Member should try and obstruct this Bill. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that all these objections which had been raised could be met, and had been met. Those whom the hon. Member represented in this matter were the only individuals who went before the Lords Committee who were not fully satisfied as to the way their objections had been met, and to raise this matter now during the passage of the Bill between the Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons seemed to be an absolutely unjustifiable waste of time.
§ MR. FREEMAN-MITFORD
desired to say that the riparian owners had no desire whatever to begrudge the water to this Company; all they desired being that fair compensation should be awarded.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
May I say a word or two ["No!"] in asking leave to withdraw the Motion? ["No!"] The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked me to withdraw my Motion.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is only entitled to speak if he wishes to withdraw the Motion. He is not entitled to speak again on the Motion.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.