MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton) moved:—
That the Order (25th February) 'That the Chelsea Water Bill be committed,' be read and discharged.
The object of the Motion was to have the Chelsea Water Bill sent to the same Select Committee to which all the other London Water Bills were sent. The Bill promoted by the Chelsea Water Company was similar in character to the
Bills promoted by the other London water companies, being for the increase of its capital, and any Bill promoted by a London water company for the extension of its capital, must, more or less, be affected in the light of the possible purchase of those companies by the London County Council, for which Bills were at present before the House. The objection which had been entered by the London County Council against the Chelsea Water Bill was practically the same as the objection that had been entered against the other London Water Bills. The Council pointed out the undesirability of the water companies in creasing their capital, in view of the possibility of purchase; and as that question would have to be argued out on the Lambeth Bill before the Committee now in the course of being appointed, it was only reasonable and proper that the Chelsea Bill should go before the same Committee.
§ *MR. E. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)
said, the Chelsea Bill had been read a second time, and referred in the usual way to a Select Committee, and the hon. Member for Shoreditch now proposed the discharge of that reference 3 in order to hand the Bill over to a Committee which was sitting to determine the very large question whether the water supply of London should be taken away from the companies and handed over to the London County Council, and also the terms on which that operation of great magnitude should take place. The decision of such an important question would take a very long time. How would the Chelsea Company fare in the meantime if the Motion of the hon. Member for Shoreditch were adopted? They would be unable to raise the additional sum of £50,000 which they required to lay down a new main. The London County Council were continually endeavouring to disparage the London Water Companies. One of the cries of the Council for the past four years had been that the water companies were unable to fulfil their statutory obligations, and then when one of the water companies came to Parliament for powers to increase their capital in order that they might adequately supply the constantly increasing public in their district with water, the Council offered every opposition in their power. There was no Bill for the purchase of the Chelsea Water Company by the County Council before the Committee. Indeed, it was well-known that the County Council had no intention whatever of pressing forward the Bill for the purchase of that water company. He therefore thought it would be a hardship to the water company to refer their Bill to this Select Committee from which it was probable it would never emerge. The Bill would die a natural death: for it would be impossible for the Committee to deal with it. In addition to that, the company would be put to heavy expense, for counsel would have to be briefed and retained until the Bill came before the Committee, when the probability was that it would never reach that stage. He thought this was what he might call a left-handed stroke at the Chelsea Water Company. He did not think the company should be treated in that way. It was unreasonable treatment; and he should add that it was not quite the way that a body like the London County Council should act. If the Council thought it necessary to take such action they should have opposed the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. J. T. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said, it seemed to him a matter of great importance that when a London water company desired to raise capital, even though the amount were small, the question ought to be dealt with in regard to the larger question of the water supply of London. He had served on the Committee which dealt last year with the Bills of the water companies, and his experience showed him that there would be no great expense or inconvenience put upon the Chelsea Company, for the reason that the settlement of the principle capital being raised by one company settled it in regard to all the other companies; and it was always very easy for the agents for a Bill to ascertain from the Committee in the usual way when the Bill was coming on. He, therefore, thought no hardship would be done to the company by having the Bill referred to that Committee; and he hoped the Motion would be carried.
§ *MR. C. A. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
said, that as the representative of a portion of the district supplied by the Chelsea Water Company, he felt bound in the interest of the consumers to appeal to the hon. Member not to press his Motion. Surely the House would see that the question whether the Chelsea Water Company ought to have pecuniary facilities for laying down a main which in their judgment was required by the actual needs of their district, was a totally different question from the infinitely larger and more difficult question of the purchase of the water companies by the London County Council, which was the special question the Hybrid Committee would have to consider. Besides, the Committee could not come to a decision in regard to the question of purchase until about the end of the Session; and it would be most unjustifiable to prevent the water company from laying down a main which they thought a pressing necessity in the interest of their consumers until that decision was arrived at. Public opinion was now directed to the manner in which the water companies were discharging their statutory obligations; and at this moment, when the water companies were practically on their trial, the House was asked to refuse to give powers to one of the companies to enable it to do what 5 it deemed absolutely necessary to secure a full and pure water supply to its district. Under those circumstances he trusted the President of the Local Government Board would not assent to this absolutely inconvenient and inexpedient Motion.
§ MR. HARRY LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
remarked that this was a question of Parliamentary procedure, and the objection raised by the hon. Member for Marylebone was really directed against the policy of this House, followed not for the last year only, but over a long course of years in reference to Water Bills. In 1890, a Hybrid Committee was appointed to consider a great variety of these Bills of which he was himself a member. The two first Bills were Bills of the same character as the London County Council Bills for transferring to them the powers of the Water Companies One was by the City of London to constitute a body to take over the whole water supply of the Metropolis, and another was a Bill of a London Vestry for much the same purpose. In addition there were other Bills of a practical character for extending the powers and widening the areas of existing Water Companies exactly on the same lines as the Chelsea Bill. The Chairman of that Committee was the right hon. Member for Blackpool who presided over the deliberations connected with the whole of the Bills. No difficulty was experienced because the Water Companies who were applying waited until the general case had been considered, and then came on and obtained their Bills in two days. Last year the same course was followed, and this year the Lambeth Bill, which was exactly on all fours with the Chelsea Bill, had been referred to the Committee. He submitted that all these questions must be considered from the standpoint of the water supply as a whole. It would be a violation of the principle Parliament had established in dealing with these cases of water to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite and to refuse to refer this Bill to the Committee already appointed. He asked the House to adopt the course which was followed in 1890, again last year, and also this year, and to accept the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
looked upon this as a 6 question concerning the consumer and also the public health, and he hoped the President of the Local Government Board would get up and tell them that it was necessary for them to have a better supply of water in the Chelsea District. It was not proposed to raise this money as ordinary capital, but as £50,000 of debenture stock. The Water Company would not waste the money, but would spend it properly in improving the service of water to the consumers, and there was no reason why the London County Council, if they thought fit, should not appear before the Committee and have a clause inserted in the Bill giving them some representation, so that they might see that the money was expended properly. This Water Company had nothing whatever to do with the question of the Water Companies whose cases were coming before the Hybrid Committee. They were on the other side of the Thames, and this was on the Chelsea side. It was of great importance that the people of the district should not be kept waiting for an improvement of their water supply, and he was surprised, after the experience they had had during the recent frost, that hon. Gentlemen should be found opposing such a simple proposal as this. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would tell them what action the Government proposed to take with regard to this most important Bill.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
, joined with his hon. Friend behind him in expressing surprise that the head of the Local Government Board, which was responsible not only for the Poor Law administration, but for the administration of the laws affecting the public health of London, had not thought fit to say one word for or against the recommendation made for the procedure in regard to this Bill. He was not going to argue whether the circumstances were similar to those preceding cases which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Cirencester, but he wished to point out that if the Motion of the hon. Member for Shoreditch were adopted and the Bill were referred to the Committee already appointed to inquire into the proposals of the London County Council to purchase the eight Water Companies of London, the practical result would be to postpone the consideration 7 of this Bill to another Session. The hon. Member for Shoreditch dissented, but if the whole policy of the purchase of the Water Companies by the London County Council was to be considered by that Committee it would occupy the whole of the time at their disposal during the present Session. The argument was that in considering any proposal for the augmentation of the capital of any existing Company regard ought to be had to the possible purchase of the Company by the London County Council. What was there to prevent any Committee of this House appointed for the consideration of this Bill including, if they thought fit, a clause that if the Committee appointed to deal with the question of purchase reported in favour of purchase, then this augmentation of capital ought not to take place. They could not attack the London Water Companies because they did not carry out their obligations on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, interfere with and curtail the opportunities of the Companies of carrying out their legitimate duties. This proposal of the Chelsea Water Company might be right or it might be wrong, and it rested with the opponents of the measure to prove it was wrong in the Committee.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. G. J. SHAW LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
said, that it had not been his intention to take any part in the discussion. The question was really one as to the best procedure, it did not affect the principle of the Bill, and if he thought the effect of the proposal of the hon. Member would be to defeat the object of the Bill, he should not vote for it.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
asked the right hon. Gentleman if he contended that the Committee already appointed would have time to discuss the question of the purchase dealt with by the eight Bills, and then have time to discuss this Bill also?
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
did not see any reason why all the Bills should not be disposed of. The question was, whether Bills of this kind should not be referred to the same Committee. This had been the usual course in the past. The hon. Member for Cirencester had told them that, in 1890 and 1894, this course was adopted, and he thought, on the whole, it would be more convenient 8 if the same course should be adopted now. As had been pointed out, by the hon. Member for Shoreditch, if this Bill came before a separate Committee, additional expenses would be incurred, for the same questions would have to be argued before the Committee that had already been appointed. He might remind the House that the Lambeth Water Company's Bill had been referred to this very Committee, and all the observations which hon. Members had made with regard to this would apply equally to that Bill. It appeared to him, therefore, it was desirable that the two Bills should be dealt with by the same Committee.
§ *MR. HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)
protested against the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman that this Motion did not affect the question of the principle. The principle of the Bill was, to give long-suffering consumers of water a little relief from the miseries they had suffered in the winter because of the deficiencies of the Companies. The effect of the Motion would be to prevent the Companies making good the deficiencies, and thus alleviating the miseries complained of. There was a large question underlying this Motion, and it was a fine illustration of the strategy applied by the London County Council upon the water question. It was admitted that the London County Council had more work to do than any body of men could accomplish, and yet they were seeking, by indirect means, to get into their hands work which was about twice as much as that which they already had. What were the tactics they employed? They said: "We will bring in the Transfer Bills." They had those before them. They referred two only of them to the Special Committee, to consider whether these two undertakings should be transferred to the County Council. What they were going to do with the others remained to be seen, but in the meantime the County Council, in effect, said: "Let us hamper, harass, and worry these Companies and consumers all we can." The Chelsea Company came forward with a Bill, and asked for leave to provide new mains, and the County Council said:—Let us prevent them making new mains, and let us force the ratepayers of London into giving us what we want.That was the strategy employed by the 9 the London County Council. He protested against the idea that this Bill, by which it was sought to provide new mains, for the better supply of the consumers with water, should be referred to the Committee which had before it the question of the acquisition, not of this undertaking in Chelsea, but of two other undertakings. He lived in a district which had in it one of the largest reservoirs of this Company, and one of the greatest outcries was, that the mains of the Water Company had not been able to supply the water they ought to supply. Why should the remedy for that deficiency be delayed one single day? It was in the power of this House, by referring the Bill in the ordinary way to the ordinary committee, to have it passed and the works begun in a month. He contended that a measure of this character ought not to be referred to a Committee which was to consider one of the very largest questions which had ever affected this great Metropolis.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said, that the President of the Local Government Board had expressed a very confident opinion that the Hybrid Committee would have ample time to deal, not only with the question of purchase, but with that raised in the present Bill. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets moved, a few days ago, in Council, that the Council should not proceed with the whole eight Bills, but with two of them. The Council, of course, were pledged to go on with the eight Bills, but the reason for only taking two was, that there probably would not be time for all the eight this year. The proposal of the hon. Member for Shoreditch would, therefore, tend to delay, and to increase legal expenses, which would ultimately fall on the ratepayers.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, it was monstrous to ask the House to rescind the Order. The Bill having been read a second time, with the assent of the Government, it ought to go on in the ordinary way. The hon. Member for Shoreditch, who moved the Motion, did not represent the County Council in the matter more than any body else, but was merely a private Member. He hoped the House would not stultify itself by agreeing to the Motion, and that 10 the Government would not be a party to anything so ridiculous.
§ DR. MACGREGOR
suggested the desirability of leaving local questions like this to the County Council for settlement and so not taking up the time of the Imperial Parliament.
§ The House Divided:—Ayes, 163; Noes, 129.—(Division List, No. 49.)
§ That, subject to the Rules, Orders, and Proceedings of this House, all Petitions against the said Bill be referred to the said Committee, and that such of the Petitioners as pray to be heard by them selves, their Counsel, Agents, or Witnesses, be heard upon their Petitions against the Bill, if they think fit, and Counsel heard in support of the said Bill against such Petitions.