§ On the Motion by Dr. FARQUHARSON for the postponement till June 13 of the Chelsea Water (Transfer) Bill, which, with five other Bills promoted by the London County Council for the purchase of the London Water Companies, was down for Second Reading.
*MR. E. BOULFOIS (Marylebone, E.)
said, the repeated adjournments of these Bills by the London County Council were extremely inconvenient, and displayed an amount of uncertainty on the part of the County Council in regard to the great question of the London water supply. It was becoming clearer and clearer every day that it was not the intention of the County Council to proceed with these six Bills during the present Session. He was not revealing any secrets when he said that they had been told on the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council, by the agent who had been entrusted with the carrying of these Bills, that it was extremely doubtful whether it would be possible to deal with them this Session. It would seem, indeed, as if it were the distinct purpose of the County Council to tinker with the great water question of London. He hardly believed the House of Commons would consent to that course. It would be detrimental not only to the interests of the consumers but to the interests of the ratepayers. Very large sums of money must also be wasted by those adjournments. The longer the Motion was delayed the less probability was there of its being brought to an issue, because, as the House was aware, no private Bill could go to the House of 510 Lords after a certain date, and the repeated adjournments were driving them perilously near to that date. This mode of harassing not only the Water Companies and the consumers, but also the Local Authorities and corporations interested in the question, was unworthy of the London County Council, and he therefore trusted the House would hear some specific declaration of policy on the part of the County Council in regard to the Bills before they consented to the long adjournment which had been suggested.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the Bills had been adjourned once by a Vote of the House, and another adjournment took place until last Friday. On last Friday he regretted that personal circumstances—which he communicated to the hon. Member for Marylebone—prevented his being in attendance at the House; and the hon. Member and his Friends, who were opposed to the policy he advocated, was kind enough to undertake to let the House know that any delay which took place from Friday until to-day was due to those personal circumstances alone, and not to any action on the part of the London County Council. With regard to the adjournment he now sought to support, he would mention that, when these Water Bills were adjourned for the first time, he then moved that their Second Reading should be postponed until May 3rd, and that they should then be further adjourned if the two similar Water Bills now referred to a Select Committee were still under consideration. It was in fulfilment of that undertaking, given by him in the ease of the Lambeth and the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Bills, that this Motion for a further postponement was now made, those two Bills not having yet passed through Committee. There was no change of policy and no wavering or uncertainty in the action taken in the matter. Before the Second Reading of the Lambeth Bill he distinctly stated that it was not the intention of the London County Council, nor indeed was it possible, to take the whole of these Bills together through a Committee of this House.
§ MR. STUART
said it was in the earlier volume to that which the hon. Member had before him. It was in the number for the 22nd February, 1895. In the discussion on the Second Reading of the Lambeth Water Hill, he said (page 1377):—If this Bill passed its Second Reading they should go on with the Southwark and Vanxhall Water Bill, because these two Bills stood in very much the same category.He then proceeded to give reasons why these two Companies should lie taken together, and then he said:—If the House granted leave to the County Council to purchase these Companies, they would be workable and would not bring them into competition with any other Companies. These were some of the reasons why these two Companies should form a separate group. The different Water Companies differed in regard to their powers, charges, and supply, in relation to the counties in which they were situated, and to the County of London, and in regard to the water consumer. There was no common body called the Water Companies of London; they were separate and competing bodies, and 1liey bad always been regarded as such. It was essential therefore, that they should proceed with the consideration of the different Bills in detachments. They had introduced the whole of the eight Bills because they wished to solve the whole Water Question, and they hoped to be able to proceed with them at a later period of the Session. They hoped also that in some cases they might come to an agreement, and they were not prepared to carry all these Bills before the Committee for consideration at once.That was the statement he made on the Second Reading of the other Bill. In the course of the Debate before the Second Reading was granted, there was a question raised, as to whether they were prepared to strike out an Arbitration Clause, giving certain directions to the Arbitrator; and he then stated that he could not withdraw the clause, but was perfectly prepared to give locus standi to all the Companies in the first Bill, on the understanding that the Second Reading of the other Bills should be deferred. Then there was a certain Instruction brought forward in the House on the same day, with a view of instructing the Committee not to proceed with the two other Bills which had passed the Second Reading, until the others were before it. That Instruction was negatived by the House on his Motion, and because of the grounds he then gave. At a later stage he moved 512 that the Bills should be deferred until the 3rd May. The reason he gave was the same as he had given before, namely, that they were not prepared to bring the whole matter as one question before the Committee, inasmuch as the circumstances of the different Water Companies differed so very considerably. But he also stated at that time that if the parties concerned were prepared to accept the Bills which the County Council had brought in, then the County Council were prepared to proceed with all possible speed to make the whole of these eight Bills law. The question was then put to him whether the Council were to use these Bills as a means of competing against the other companies; and he showed not only was that not their intention, but that it was not in their power, inasmuch as the Parliamentary area of the two Bills now before the Committee did not encroach—except in the case of an inconsiderable portion of the Kent Company's supply—on the area served by any other Company. The statement having been, made that it was not the intention of the London County Council to proceed with the other Bills, he stated in reply that it was the intention and the desire of the Council to proceed with the others; that they should proceed with them this Session, if possible, and, if not, then in another Session; and that it was for the purpose of convenience in the matter that the Council had taken the steps they had. He further pointed out that he himself had moved a Resolution to confer a locus standi upon all Water Companies, County Councils, and other local bodies, so that they might appear upon the Lambeth Bill, even if they were not in any sense interested in that particular Bill; so that if anything were raised on it involving a general principle, applicable to other Bills, they might be able to defend their interests. He conceived that course of proceeding commended itself to the House, and in consequence the Second Heading was passed under the circumstances he had indicated; the Instructions were negatived, the locus standi Resolutions were passed, and the other six Bills now before the House were deferred until the 3rd May—the distinct statement being made I on his part that, when the 3rd May came if the other two Bills were not through 513 Committee, he would then move that the six Bills be again deferred until a later period. That was the exact position of the case, and in what he had said he had endeavoured to make clear what was the position taken up in the matter on behalf of the London County Council. It was in these circumstances that it was desired to defer the consideration of the other six Water Bills until the Select Committee had had a reasonable opportunity of discussing and agreeing as to what its settlement was to be in the case of the two Bills now before it. It had been hoped that it would have been possible for the Bills to have been set down for the 3rd May, but a great many Members desired that the new County Council should pronounce an opinion before the two Bills went before the Committee. He assured the House at the time on the Second Beading that it was unnecessary to wait for any opinion of the new County Council after the strong opinion given by the old, and he was glad to see that j when this question was brought before the present County Council they, by a majority of more than two to one, voted in favour of the policy he was now asking the House to adopt.
§ *MR. F. G. BANBURY
observed, that the hon. Gentleman had told them what took place on the Lambeth Bill on the 22nd February, but he, had not told them what took place on the 28th February, when the Bill now under discussion, the Chelsea Water Bill, was brought on for Second Beading. The hon. Gentleman on the 28th February told them—he would not press the understanding if hon. Gentlemen felt it did not exist, lint the 3rd of May was the earliest possible date upon which the Second Reading of these Bills could be taken.There was nothing further.
§ MR. STUART
If the hon. Gentleman will look at page 1447 of The Parliamentary debates, he will see that when I first moved the Adjournment of the Bills, I said what I have indicated.
§ *MR. BANBURY
That was on the 22nd February, but on the 28th, when the Chelsea Water Bill came up nothing further was then said.
§ MR. STUART
said, the hon. Gentleman had not followed what occurred. There was a Second Reading Debate on 514 the 22nd February, and then on the 25th, a subsequent date, what he did was merely to carry out the undertaking he had given to the House, which he accordingly did by moving that the Second Reading of the Chelsea Water Bill be postponed until May 3, then to be further adjourned if the two similar Bills now before a Select Committee were still under consideration.
§ *MR. BANBURY
said, what he was referring to, took place on the 28th February, in the Debate on that day, he himself said he understood it was the distinct intention of the London County Council to proceed with the remaining six Bills, and also that he understood the Motion of the hon. Member for Shoreditch had practically told the House that they would not use the two Bills that had already gone to the Committee in order to exercise any pressure on the remaining six Companies. On that occasion he said he was satisfied, and there was no vote taken because he understood the hon. Member for Shore-ditch had come under a pledge to the House which he would be bound to fulfil. It seemed to him that these Bills ought to be referred to one Committee. As a London Member he had no objection to the County Council buying the Water Companies, but if these Water Companies were to be bought let them be bought, and do not let the question be postponed till nobody knew whether they were to be bought or not. The interests of the shareholders and of Londoners were suffering from the extraordinary method of procedure adopted, and lie hoped that either the eight Bills would be taken before the Committee, or that the whole thing would be dropped.
§ Order postponed till June 13th.