§ Order for Second Reading road.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ *MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
observed that there were down for Second Reading on behalf of the London County Council six Water Transfer Bills, with certain subsequent Motions. As they all embodied the same principle, he thought it would be for the convenience of the House that the general discussion should take place on the first of these Bills. ["Hear, hear!"] The Measures 6 of the London County Council with respect to dealing with the water question of London were all before the House to-day. They all contained the one great principle of purchase by the representative municipal authority—first, by agreement, and, failing that, by compulsory arbitration. The water area of London extended beyond the County Council area, and in the various Bills it was proposed to give to each outside area connected with the company concerned certain options. What these options were and the whole position of the Measures would be best understood if he referred to the Report of the latest important general Committee which sat on this matter—namely, that presided over by the present Home Secretary in 1891. That Committee recommended that power should be given to the London County Council to expend such further sums as might be necessary in investigating the whole question and coming to a conclusion as to the policy which should be adopted. The Report also set forth that, if the London County Council should so resolve, they should have the power to promote a Bill or Bills constituting themselves the responsible water authority of London, acting through a Statutory Committee, appointed either wholly by themselves or partly in conjunction with the Corporation of the City. The Report pointed out that the London County Council, if constituted the water authority, should be required to purchase the companies' undertakings by agreement, or failing that, by arbitration within a fixed period. Lastly, having put on the purchaser the duty of fulfilling the obligations which the companies purchased, they had said that, in the event of purchase by this new authority, power should be given to it and to the authorities outside the area to negotiate for the purchase by the outside areas of so much of the works of distribution as was appropriate to the district of such local authority, of the right to the supply of water in bulk, and possibly of some sources of supply which, with other works of distribution, it might be found practical and advantageous to separate from the general scheme. This Bill was an endeavour to embody this in a Measure before Parliament. Two features of the Bills had been specially commented upon. The first was that, 7 by the Council's proposals, failing agreement before a fixed date, the property on that date became vested in the purchasers, and the arbitration as to price proceeded. This had been called taking people's property before you had paid for it [Ministerial cheers], and even taking it without paying for it. But the fact was overlooked that by these Bills the County Council became responsible from that moment for the payment of the full dividends hitherto paid until the whole of the purchase-money had been settled. Had that arrangement come into force last year the shareholders of the water companies concerned would have been better off than they were. During the interval, however, they became secure of their income on a better security—vastly better—the whole rateable value of London. But the County Council were perfectly willing to modify that arrangement. The second point was as to the arbitration clause. A year ago, when two of these Bills passed their Second Reading, he gave an undertaking on behalf of the London County Council that they would, in addition to the arbitration clause which the Bill contained, give an instruction that everything favourable to the case of the purchasers should be considered by the arbitrator. The whole matter was threshed out at great length before an important representative Committee, the County Council formulated a new arbitration clause which substantially carried out certain directions of the Committee. It was said that arbitration not under the Lands Clauses Act would not give the water companies all they wanted, and therefore would not be fair to them. But the Council had the public to consider as well as the companies. Their interests were not coincident, and it was on the divergence of their interests that the principle of purchase in these Bills was based. Why was the Second Reading of these Bills opposed? Those who wished the water in private hands would consistently oppose them. But there was more powerful opposition from the Government, who had introduced a Bill seeking to establish a new water authority which would take over all the powers as to water which are now in the hands of the London County Council. Let the County Council pass its Bills and the 8 Government pass theirs, and the moment that was done the County Council would have to hand over their purchase to the new authority. The purchase would be effected at a time when it was eminently essential, if it was to be effected at all, that it should be. Nay, more, in this matter of purchase he had behind him the unanimous opinion of the London County Council.
§ MR. C. A. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
The hon. Gentleman has no right to say the County Council are unanimous.
§ *MR. STUART
said he could, if necessary, quote a Resolution of the Council directing its parliamentary representatives to oppose the Bills of the water companies on the ground that the control of the water should not be in the hands of private companies, which was passed unanimously.
§ MR. WHITMORE
said members of the Council had over and over again publicly stated that they were opposed to the purchase of the rights of the private companies.
§ *MR. STUART
stated that there may have been some members of the Council who disagreed, but they did not oppose the Resolution of the Council, which was passed unanimously; It was suggested that an adjournment should be sought, to come to some arrangement. But they had tried to come to terms with the Government and were willing to adapt their scheme to theirs. However, as a condition precedent to other considerations, they were called upon to accept Lands Clauses arbitration. That was the only way to get their Bills to a Second Reading. He did not say that this concession would secure for them a Second Reading. If they were to ask now for a further delay it could only be on the understanding that they were prepared to make that concession. But he and those who acted with him absolutely refused to accept this condition. Let the House observe what they were asked to do—to give away the whole of the ratepayers' case, to give the companies the whole of their demands, without investigation or a Committee to take evidence or hear arguments. The case was simply this: "Accept the companies' terms or lose your Bills." The Government might say these requirements arose, not so much from 9 any favour on their part to the companies or to that clause, as from the circumstances of complication, which made a general agreement necessary if anything further was to be done. He did not admit that anything could justify the water companies dictating their own terms. The complications which required this concession were entirely of the Government's creation, it was their action which prevented purchase except on terms most exorbitantly unjust in favour of the companies and against the consumers. The introduction of their Bill had been an immense boon to the companies. The London County Council had striven hard to pass these Bills. They recognised that it was impossible to pass them without the co-operation of this powerful Government. They had been anxious by concession to purchase this co-operation; but they could not pay for it the price of giving to the companies compensation which they had no right to claim. Now, it was important to note the circumstances under which the Government interference had taken place. The Government were about to kill the Bills of the London County Council and to postpone purchase at a grave crisis in the whole question of the London water supply. Purchase, if it was to take place, must take place quickly. Let the House look at the Notice Paper that day; when the County Council Bills were thrown out by the Government, they would come to the Bills promoted by the water companies themselves. These Bills the Government were going to pass. They were the confession that the companies had come to the end of their resources—that they were unable to fulfil their obligations. The companies, by these Bills, proposed to increase their present nominal capital of £17,000,000 by £3,800,000, or by 22 per cent. The whole structure of the Bills implied a general scheme—a general plan for altering the entire status of the Metropolitan water companies, which would let them escape from Parliament for a long time. They were to pass these Bills, and they fancied they were to shield themselves by limiting the companies to immediate necessities. What was their limit worth if there was no proposal for purchase? Somebody must bring water to London. If he 10 were prepared to purchase the companies, to constitute himself the water authority, the obligation and responsibility lay on him. But, the moment the probabilities of purchase were vague and uncertain, the moment purchase was relegated to the uncertain action of a body, whose very creation was still extremely improbable, then the water companies hold the field, and the concessions which, under these circumstances they would be bound to obtain, would rehabilitate them and would give them a totally new and improved status, while the water consumer and the ratepayer would be left naked and unarmed to defend himself. The House had before it two clear policies, and it, would have to choose between them to-day. There was the policy which the County Council brought forward and elaborated after the closest and most careful study, and after many years attention to every detail of this complicated subject—a policy strictly in accordance with the whole historical development of this question and with the present Home Secretary's Scheme. It was succinctly and clearly expressed in the latest Resolution on the subject passed by the London County Council—in a Resolution in complete harmony with every Resolution which that body has adopted:—That the entire control of the water supply within the area of the county of London shall be in the hands of the London consumers, directly represented by the County Council in conjunction with the City Corporation; that the consumers in the metropolitan water area outside the county shall not be denied, or deprived of, similar rights in their respective areas; and that the purchase price of the existing water undertakings shall not be assessed under the provisions of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, but shall be based upon the fair and reasonable value of those undertakings, due regard being had to the rights, special circumstances, and obligations of the companies; also that the Parliamentary Committee be instructed to Report as to the reply of Her Majesty's Government immediately after the Recess.And what was the Government policy against that? It was to make a new Asylums Board, a new Metropolitan Board of Works, removed as far as possible from the control of the electors; to separate the supervisory health authority from the water control; to take all water powers but those of fire out of the 11 hands of the Council. This new body would have to begin at the beginning again; it was endowed with very scanty powers; its control over the water companies, if it was to be in any way effective, would have, like its purchase of them, to be secured by subsequent Act of Parliament. It was a body of the precise character which was emphatically condemned by the Committee presided over by the Home Secretary. That Committee, which considered the whole Question of a trust and rejected it on April 23th1891, said:—That no Bill can be satisfactory dealing with the questions referred to this Committee which merely constitutes a public authority to promote Bills in Parliament.Such was the policy of the Government. They might kill these Bills of the London County Council; but would they have got rid of the London County Council's policy? He ventured to think they would not. On the contrary, he believed that in the end they would have to come round to what the County Council proposed; but it would be only after an excursion and delay which would inflict on the people of London a heavy and a grievous burden and an irreparable wrong. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)
said, he moved the rejection of the Bill on two grounds—first, because, owing to the recent action of the Government, the Bill was not only unnecessary, but mischievous; and, secondly, even if that obstacle did not exist, the Bill was of a nature that the House ought not to accept. He did not exactly understand whom the hon. Member for the Hoxton Division represented in the matter, because he found that in October last the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council reported in favour of an application to the Government to introduce legislation on the subject, and an Amendment to that Report that the Bills to take over the eight water companies should be proceeded with was, after a long discussion, negatived on a Division at a full meeting of the London County Council. It seemed to him, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman represented only himself, and not the London County Council, whom he claimed to represent. The Bills before 12 the House proposed that the water companies were to be taken over on a specific date and without any payment. The hon. Gentleman contended that it was an advantage to the shareholders that they should have their property taken over without any payment being made, for he said the shareholders would be secured in their income. The shareholders felt that their income would be more secure in the hands of the water companies than in the hands of the London County Council. When a person sold a thing he did not want to be assured an income, but to get the money for which he sold the thing, and it was a positive fact that, not only would the security of the bondholders be very much hazarded, which would make it impossible for trustees to hold it, but it would temporarily prohibit the transfer of stock of nearly 40 millions of money, which would become unsaleable until this question was settled. He was sure that that mode of confiscating private property, which would be injurious to the great body of holders of stock in the country, would not commend itself to the House. The hon. Gentleman also said, it was proposed by the County Council to constitute a water authority, which was to purchase from the companies by agreement, or, failing that, by arbitration. The arbitration proposed was, perhaps, the one feature of the Scheme that was most objectionable. It was not arbitration at all; it was confiscation! What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham say of it? Speaking on February 22nd 1895, the right hon. Gentleman said—Anything more absolutely one-sided, anything more unfair, than a condition of this kind, it was impossible to conceive.The Attorney General also condemned the proposed scheme of arbitration as one-sided, and as calculated to induce the arbitrator to speculate on matters which no arbitrator ought to take into account in matters of this kind. They knew that on the transfer of the tramways the shareholders had to submit to the purchase of their property at the price of old iron; and the stockholders and shareholders of the forty millions invested in the water companies were not prepared to yield up these concerns to be dealt with in the same 13 manner. The hon. Member for Shore-ditch had given an undertaking as to the Amendment of the Arbitration Clause; but what authority had he to give it? He was not a majority of the County Council, and what he had promised might be repudiated. The hon. Member said that last year the County Council strove to obtain the, passing of these Bills; but, on the contrary, he did all he could to prevent their passing by desiring to push forward two only, to be used as a lever to bring the companies to the feet of the County Council. It was quite impossible to suppose the hon. Member delayed the Bills in order to do good to the water companies. And, at the present, would not one Transfer Bill be sufficient? Could not one Bill have enabled the County Council to deal with all the companies? Again, it was on the principle of using one or two Bills as levers that eight Bills were introduced. The object was to weary people with the discussion of eight Bills when one would have been sufficient. They could not now discuss the Bill the Government had introduced in the other House; but the situation was changed by the fact that the Government had brought in a Bill dealing with the whole question; and there was no doubt some Measure would be passed, he did not say exactly on the lines of the Government Bill, because he strongly hoped the County Council would receive only an equal and not a predominant share in the Water Trust. But no doubt some Bill would be passed; it would give power to take over all these companies; and, therefore, it was useless to send these Bills to a Committee to waste its time in considering proposals which were not likely to be passed. It would be wrong that shareholders and ratepayers should be put to the expense of fighting these Bills in Committee; the money would be simply wasted and would not bring benefit to anyone. For these reasons he moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ *MR. ERNEST TRITTON (Lambeth, Norwood)
said, he hoped the House would allow a Conservative Member, who seldom interfered in Debate, to say a few words against the Second; Reading of this Bill. In order to avoid all misunderstanding it was almost necessary for him, as a man of business 14 connected with the City, to say that personally he was not in the slightest degree interested in any water company, and his Radical opponents would not find his name connected with that of any company in the world. He did not rise as an opponent of the London County Council as a whole. He was not aware that, either in this House or outside it, he had indulged in that strong language against the London County Council which some had used, and the use of which he most distinctly deprecated. He must confess he had great sympathy with the London County Council in the immense amount of work they were called upon to do; and, with the tenderest regard for the health and happiness of many of the Members of that most estimable body, he should deprecate putting any fresh burdens upon them. He should feel very great fear lest some of the Members, who really worked so hard, if by the action of the House they had the control of the water supply with all its ramifications placed in their hands, would suffer from water on the brain or some similar disease. [Laughter.] Undoubtedly water was a dry subject. (A laugh.) At the same time there was no subject to which the House of Commons could give its attention which was of more importance to the welfare, health and happiness of the dwellers in this great Metropolis than a plentiful supply of pure wholesome water. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart) would not think he was wanting in courtesy if he said he objected to the Bill because of the quarter whence it came. It was the offspring of the Progressive Party, and that party had completely lost the confidence of the people of London. (Ministerial cheers.) The hon. Member for Shoreditch smiled. As far as this House was concerned the recent Elections showed that the Progressive and Radical Party in the Metropolis had completely lost the confidence of the people. To put it in a more homely way, all the Progressive and Radical Members sitting for London constituencies could at present be comfortably accommodated in two four-wheeled calls, in which each Member could have a corner seat to himself. It was true many of the opponents of the Bill desired very strongly that the 15 water supply should be taken out of the hands of companies and vested in some public authority; but they had not been able to see that the London County Council was a body that had the necessary capabilities and qualifications for taking over this large undertaking. Next, the County Council scheme, after all, was advanced by a very small majority on the Council itself, which overruled the resolution of its Parliamentary Committee, recommending that the Government should be asked to legislate on this subject very much on the lines of the Bill they had introduced into the Lords. He was dissatisfied with the Arbitration Clause, in spite of what had been said by the hon. Member for Shoreditch; and he objected to vesting the property of the company immediately in the London County Council, while leaving to the future the assessment of the price to be paid. He disliked the plan of the promoters in bringing in separate Bills, one for each company, and thus putting ratepayers and shareholders to undue expense. He disliked compulsory purchase by the London County Council, and preferred the discretionary powers given by the Government Bill. Some four years attendance in that House had shown him that no words were dearer to the heart of a Progressive Radical than the words "Compulsion" and "Prohibition"; but he supposed no words were more disagreeable to the hearts of Moderates and Conservatives. Further, this was a question of supplying not only Central London, but also a large outside area over which the London County Council had no control, the outside area being 620 square miles and the inner area 121 square miles. He based his opposition not on any of these arguments, but distinctly on a perfectly clear issue, and that, on the fact that the Government had brought in a Bill greatly appreciated by a large number of people, dealing with the whole question of the London water supply. The proposals of the London County Council embodied in these Bills were distinctly inconsistent with the proposals of the Government. Therefore the House ought to defer the Second Reading of these Bills until the Bill of the Government came down to this House, and they had an opportunity of discussing the details. Many characteristics were 16 attributed to successive Parliaments, and the present, like its predecessor, might be credited with common sense. To send these Bills to a Committee, and to put shareholders and ratepayers to great expense while all the time the Government had a Measure before Parliament, would be utterly opposed to the dictates of common sense. As a man of business and a London Member, he asked them to take a common sense and business view of the situation and not to pass the Second Reading, but to leave these Bills in a state of "suspended animation" until the whole question was fully before the House.
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said that it was not only the Members of the Progressive Party in London who were anxious that the property of the water companies should be acquired by some public authority on fair and equitable terms. He would remind hon. Members opposite of the strong promises given by the Members of their Party at the last General Election, and at the County Council Election. It was generally agreed that the property of the water companies would have to be acquired in some way, and the great point was the terms of the acquisition. The constitution of the governing body was a secondary question for the people of London. It was objected that the arbitration clause was unprecedented; but in this matter precedents were rather rocks to be avoided than guides to be followed, for there was scarcely a local authority in the country which had had to purchase the property of a water company, and which had not had to pay through the nose for it. Besides, the interests involved in the present case were far larger than those of any previous case. The House was not asked to approve of the arbitration clause, but simply to send it for consideration to an impartial tribunal, before which the County Council could be heard. The Committee would consist of nine Members, four to be appointed by the House (two from each side), and five added by the Committee of Selection for their knowledge of the subject and impartiality. In refusing this tribunal it looked as though the water companies were afraid of submitting their case to arbitration, and as though the Government were now championing the water 17 companies. That was how the case would present itself to the people of London. The alternative Bills of the Government satisfied no one. The local authorities outside the County of London desired to have local control over the water supply within their own area. The County Council had already made satisfactory arrangements with those on the south side of the Thames, and there was no reason to suppose that they could not make similar arrangements with the authorities on the north side of the Thames. The Instruction which the President of the Local Government Board proposed to move in regard to the Staines Reservoirs' Bill was totally incompatible to the character of the Bill. The present time was really a crisis in the history of the water companies, and the House was being invited to give the companies another lease of life to the detriment of the London public.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
said that it would be convenient if he were to state at once the course which the Government proposed to take with regard to the 14 Water Bills on the Paper, and the view which the Government took as to the future supply of water to the Metropolis and the surrounding districts. In the first place, there were five Bills promoted by various of the water companies for the purpose of increasing the supplies of water which they possessed at present. Then there was a Bill presented by certain local authorities in Kent for the purpose of setting up a new and altogether separate water company. Thirdly, there were the Bills of the London County Council, whose object was the acquisition of the entire property of the eight separate water companies at present supplying London and the surrounding districts. With regard to the Bills in the first class, the course of the Government was clear. The Government would do nothing whatever to interfere with the progress of any Measure required for the purpose of increasing the water supply needed in the interest of the public. [Cheers.] Parliament had had some warning on this point already. In the summer of 1895, there was a sudden breakdown in the water supply of one 18 of the poorest districts served by the East London Water Company; and for a considerable period the supply was limited to three hours out of the twenty-four. What were the privations and hardships inflicted by this failure on the poor people of that district the House would understand when he stated that it was a district in which anything in the nature of adequate means of storage was the rarest possible exception rather than the rule. He had some opportunity of examining into the question on the spot, and, in his opinion, there were several days when the position threatened to become critical in the extreme. The difficulties were happily averted by a sudden change in the weather and by copious rains. He should express the opinion of Gentlemen in all parts of the House in declaring that it was intolerable that such a state of things should be even possible in London to-day. [Cheers.] At that time he was pressed in many quarters—and he should have taken the same course without being pressed—to institute an Inquiry, under the powers of the Local Government Board, into the causes of this failure. An Inquiry was conducted by two gentlemen—Colonel Ducat and Dr. Barry—with the greatest ability and impartiality, and he was glad to acknowledge publicly the services which they had rendered. Although he did not for a moment wish to rake up past controversies on this subject, he must say that the Report of those gentlemen made it absolutely clear that the failure of the water supply was in no way whatever due to failings on the part of the East London Water Company. ["Hear, hear!"] On the contrary, the evidence showed that the company had been anxious for a long time on the question of whether or not they had sufficient storage powers. They had made all the preparations to increase the storage, and in 1892 they came to Parliament with a Bill for the purpose. But what happened to that Bill? "That Bill," the Commissioners said, "was thrown out of Parliament on the Second Reading, and a large amount of evidence was brought forward to show the action of the London County Council with regard to this Bill, both in 1893 and 1894," and they went onto say that 19 "if it was afterwards refused to send this Bill to a Committee, the responsibility for the want of storage in 1895 cannot justly be saddled in any way upon the water companies." With that warning before them Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to take upon themselves the responsibility of any action whatsoever which might by any possibility lead to a recurrence of similar mischiefs in future, and accordingly, as far as they were concerned, they proposed to allow these Bills to go forward and to pass the Second Reading, subject, however, to the Instruction which it would be his duty to ask the House to agree to later on, the effect of which would be to limit the operation of those Bills to works which were required for an increase in the supply which was needed in the public interest and which, at the same time, would prevent undertakings which were unnecessary and which might be calculated to forestall or prejudice any future arrangement which might turn out to be either possible or desirable in the connection with the proposals which Her Majesty's Government had submitted already in the other House of Parliament. The Transfer Bills promoted by the County Council and the Bill promoted by the Kent authorities to create a separate water authority in that district stood on a totally different footing, for they came directly into conflict with the proposals made in the other House of Parliament, as he would show in a moment by explaining the policy of the Government. In doing so it would be sufficient to say that all authorities, all committees to whom the question had been in trusted, were practically agreed that the Water Supply for the Metropolis and the surrounding districts ought either to be in the hands or under the effective control of some public body which should represent the interests and command the confidence of the water consumers. On this subject the recommendation of the Committee of 1880, which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, was as follows:—That it is expedient that the supply of water to the Metropolis should be placed under the control of some public body which shall represent the interests and command the confidence of the water consumers.20 And then with regard to the constitution of that body, they proceeded—
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
No, no. To leave the preceding words out would be a misrepresentation of the Report. That sentence begins in this way: "In the absence of any municipal body." [Cheers.]
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
I am perfectly ready to read it if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it necessary, but I omitted it for the reason that there is no municipal body of which I am aware which is representative of the district.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
Because it did not appear to me ad rent, but, as the right hon. Gentleman desires it, I shall have the greatest possible pleasure in reading it:—That, in the absence of any single municipal body to which these functions should be committed, a water authority of a representative character should be constituted, and that a Bill having that object be introduced at an early day by Her Majesty's Government.They went on to say—(4)… "Without absolutely prescribing the composition of such a body, your Committee are of opinion that it should include elements derived from the Corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of "Works, together with a due representation of the districts at present supplied by the Metropolitan Water Companies which lie beyond the jurisdiction of the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board.And then, as to the duties to be entrusted to the new body, it made these suggestions—SECTION 11. "In the constitution of the water authority, your Committee would recommend that that body should be intrusted with the largest discretion as to the best method of dealing with the water supply of the Metropolis. Various courses might be adopted. It would be possible to proceed by regulation of the powers of the existing companies, as in the case of gas supply; or by the introduction of an independent water supply; or by the purchase of the existing undertakings. It would be the duty of the water authority maturely to examine which of these schemes, separately or in combination, would be most advantageous to the public.21 Why, that was precisely the Bill which Her Majesty's Government had introduced! a Bill to create a representative body. It would be impossible, he thought, to devise a scheme more in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee than the Bill which had been introduced by the Government in the other House of Parliament. Now the object and the general effect of the policy of the Government with regard to the question might be described almost in a sentence. They sought to bring into existence a body which should be thoroughly representative of all the interests comprised within that district; they proposed to leave to that body, when brought into existence, the entire decision as to what their policy should be in the future, and they intended to give them the amplest powers to give effect to that decision [Cheers], subject, of course, to the sanction of Parliament. That was a reasonable, intelligent, and perfectly straightforward policy for the purpose of dealing with the question. ["Hear, hear!"] That being so, it must be obvious to the House that the Kent Bill and the Transfer Bills were directly in conflict with the policy of the Government. For the first of those Bills set up in one part of the area a counter authority to that which was contemplated by the Government, and the other Bills—namely, the County Council Bills—had for their aim the immediate acquisition of the property of the companies by an authority which would leave one-fifth of the rateable value and one-fifth of the population unrepresented altogether, and which would in no way be representative at all of 500 square miles out of the 621 square miles comprised in their district. Under these circumstances, the Government had no alternative except to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill of the County Council. Turning to the objection urged to this course—that it would be a mistake on the part of the Government to interfere with negotiations with regard to purchase which had come so near a conclusion—he observed that he was extremely doubtful as to the accuracy of that statement. There were numerous representatives of the different companies in the House, and they would be able to give testimony on the subject for themselves, but, unless he was entirely misinformed, these negotiations 22 were very far from having arrived at anything like a settlement. The Government believed that their action, so far from retarding, was much more likely to accelerate a final settlement of the question. In a memorandum which had been circulated by the County Council, they pointed out the great strength of the opposition which they had always had to encounter, and, like their predecessors the Metropolitan Board, the County Council "recognised the impossibility of successfully meeting the vast power and influence of the eight London water companies acting in combination otherwise than by co-operation with the Corporation of the City of London." The Government recognised this; and they were also aware that the County Council, during the years which had elapsed since its creation in 1888, had not been successful in making very great progress with this question. ["Hear, hear!"] Being anxious to aid in the solution, they proposed to put the County Council in co-operation, not only with the Corporation of the City of London, but in co-operation with all the outside authorities also; thereby creating a body which would be infinitely more powerful in conducting and completing negotiations in future than the County Council had been in the past. [Cheers.] The House must also remember that, subject to the sanction of Parliament, purchase was not the only new power to be conferred on the new authority. The acquisition of more effective control over the administration of the companies, or, if need be, of seeking for and acquiring further stores of supply, would be equally within their powers, which had been intentionally made by the Government as wide as they could be. It must be for the new body to decide entirely as to what their policy should be; but many persons thought—an opinion with which he himself agreed—that the obtaining of more effective control over the administration of the companies, while still leaving to them the duty of providing supplies, might; possibly in the long run turn out to be the best, most economical, and perhaps most satisfactory mode of dealing with the question. ["Hear, hear!"] The responsibility of acquiring properties which would impose a burden that was variously estimated at any sum 23 between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000 of the ratepayers' money, was very great indeed; and he did not think that the other alternative ought to be put on one side altogether. It was stated that the outside authorities interested would be very reluctant indeed to join in any combination such as that proposed by the Government; they would be afraid of being brought into a body which might possibly entail upon them a very large and very unnecessary expenditure in the future. He had been told also that they would prefer an autonomous existence, and that they were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. He did not doubt it. There was absolutely nothing in the proposals of the Government to prevent arrangements of this kind from being made and carried out in the future. On the contrary, the outside authorities being strongly represented on the new body, they would be in a far better position than they were at present to come to any desirable arrangements. The Government had already inserted provisions in the Bill specially designed to facilitate this object, and those provisions could be easily strengthened if there should be any necessity for it. The hon. Member for Shoreditch had referred to certain communications which had passed between himself representing the County Council, and the Government, in which he was the intermediary. The object was to consider whether any arrangements were possible by which the Transfer Bills of the County Council and the Measure proposed by the Government might proceed more or less together. He acknowledged the appreciation which the hon. Member had expressed of his readiness to consider proposals of that kind, and he assured the hon. Gentleman that the appreciation was reciprocated. The difficulties of arriving at an arrangement were immense, and, to some exrent, he demurred to the interpretation which the hon. Member placed upon the particular cause of difficulty which terminated the negotiations. The possibility of any arrangement being made depended entirely on the speedy passage of the Government Bill, for a Committee upstairs could hardly conduct their deliberations with reference to a hypothetical body which had not yet come into existence; but to insure the speedy passage of the 24 Government Measure it was, of course, in the first place, necessary to disarm the opposition it would be likely to encounter. He soon discovered that to do this it was necessary for the County Council to abandon the arbitration clauses which were at present in the Bill, and to rely on the ordinary law. To allow these Bills to proceed, therefore, would simply entail enormous cost and trouble on a variety of interests which would be affected without any corresponding advantage to anyone. [Cheers.] The Government would make every effort to pass the Measure they had introduced in the other House. While greatly regretting the necessity which brought him at so early a date into conflict with the great representative authority of the Metropolis, he felt that he had no alternative except to oppose the Second Reading of the Transfer Bills. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
A good many years ago I was called upon to take an active part in the consideration of this question, and I think I ought to say a few words on the position which it occupies to-day. It was so long ago that the right hon. Gentleman might well have forgotten, if, indeed, he ever read, the Report of 1880. I should suppose that he had not read the Report, because I ventured to point out that he omitted to read the most important paragraph in it. ["No, no!"] I know something of the Report, probably more than the hon. Gentlemen who cry "No." I had the advantage of a most distinguished collaborateur in that Report in the Secretary for the Colonies; I think we may call it a joint Report. Now, the great want at that time was some central municipal body which should be intrusted with business of this character, of which Birmingham is a great example. There being no such municipal body at that time, we said in our Report that, in the absence of any single municipal body to which those functions could be committed, a water authority of a representative character should be constituted; but, of course, if there had been a single municipal body we should not have constituted another, and, therefore, the passage to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was really an inferior alternative to which we had recourse in the 25 absence of a single municipal body. That was at the beginning of the Government of 1880. They had in their minds at that time a Bill to constitute a single municipal body in London in a London Government Bill. I was responsible for that at the time, and having that in view, we looked to the constitution of a single municipal body in London. But we were not fortunate enough to constitute that single municipal body, though when our successors, the Conservative Government, came into power they did constitute it. ["No, no!"] They left outstanding the Corporation of the City of London, but when the Committee of 1891, presided over by the present Home Secretary, sat, reference was made to the Committee of 1880 and to the declaration that when a municipal body was formed in London they were the proper people to be the water authority. Therefore, the Home Secretary put upon the Report of 1880 exactly the interpretation that I did in contrast to the interpretation of the President of the Local Government Board. The argument used just now by the right hon. Gentleman is this, that the London County Council is not the single municipal body which was intended by the Report of 1880. Then the right hon. Gentleman is at issue with his colleague the Home Secretary. I will read the words:—Your Committee therefore considers that it would he most desirable that the problem should be carefully and deliberately examined by this newly-constituted municipal authority—namely, the London County Council. The interpretation of the Committee, then, was that the County Council should look after the interests of the water consumers in the Metropolis. In the view, also, of the Committee of 1891, the municipal authority that, ought to be charged with these functions was the County Council. They said:—Powers should he granted to the County Council to expend such further sums as may be reasonably necessary in order that they may examine thoroughly for themselves, as the responsible municipal authority of London, the whole question of the metropolitan water supply, and may come to a conclusion as to the policy which, for financial and other reasons, it is desirable to adopt.26 The Committee also said that, if the County Council should resolve to act,they should have power to promote a Bill or Bills in Parliament for the purpose of constituting themselves the responsible water authority of London, acting through a statutory Committee.Well, one such Bill was now under the consideration of the House in accordance with the Report of the Committee. They went on:—The London County Council, if constituted the authority, should be required to purchase, either alone or in conjunction with such authorities of outside areas as may be arranged, the undertakings of the eight water companies.Nothing could be more distinct. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government, they were told, had introduced a Bill dealing with the subject of the water supply, but that Bill did not constitute the London County Council the water authority. [Cheers from the Ministerial Benches.] Hon. Members opposite did not desire that it should. There were a great many representatives of the water companies in that House. Any body who had ever attempted to deal with the water question was well aware of the number of these Gentlemen and of their influence in that House. But it was not an influence which was exercised always in the interests of the consumer, and it was because it was not so exercised that it was desirable that the water supply should be placed in the hands of some public body, which should have the interests of the consumer primarily at heart. ["Hear, hear!"] What was the meaning of the Government Bill as interpreted by the water companies? Lord Knutsford, who was their representative in the other House, said:—He was grateful to the Government—and he believed he spoke the general feeling of the companies—for having stepped in and put an end to the designs of the London County Council—the very body which the Committee, presided over by the present Home Secretary, declared ought to have charge of the water of London in the interests of the consumer. What are "the designs" of the County Council? To acquire the property of these companies and to administer it for the benefit of the public; and the Government, according to Lord Knutsford, have stepped in to prevent 27 this being done. The Government propose to constitute a body in which the County Council will have an influence which will not be at all in proportion to the size of the population which they represent. The right hon. Gentleman has said correctly that the allegation against the policy of the Government is that it will postpone indefinitely any real reform. If they had introduced a Bill for constituting an authority which should have power to deal at once with this question, we could have discussed the subject on a proper basis. We should have seen whether the body to whom the power of purchase was to be given was a better body to exercise such a power than the London County Council. As far as I understand—and the right hon. Gentleman does not deny it—the outside bodies affected by the Bill of the Government do not want this scheme at all; they are not willing partners in the concern, and so you are going to set up a body with a number of persons on it who do not wish to be on it. The right hon. Gentleman says that they may make arrangements to get away from it; but surely a scheme cannot be very workable that provides for putting upon a body a dozen gentlemen who want to get away from it. Does the hon. Member for the Uxbridge Division, who represents the water companies, agree with that?
§ *SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
I have nothing to do with the water companies in any form. I have not a single share in their property. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not mean to make any personal imputation, but I must condole with the hon. Baronet—[laughter]—because I am informed that their shares are very substantial possessions. What I want to know is this: What is the probability, if these Bills are thrown out by the House, that anything practical will be done within a reasonable time? If these Bills were passed something practical would be done. The supplies of water for London would be acquired through the County Council. I am glad to see here the creator of the County Council. Whatever hon. Gentlemen behind him may think of that body, he, at any rate, has never disowned his offspring, and he has expressed perfect confidence that the Council if intrusted with the water supply of the metropolis, would 28 perform its task ably. But a large number of hon. Members opposite seem to think that it is a sacred duty to attack the County Council. I really do not know why this is so. The hon. Member for Norwood openly avowed that he attacked the proposals made in these Bills on account of the Progressive quarter from which they came. Is that a reasonable way of treating such a question as the water supply of London?
§ *MR. TRITTON
I said that I admired the County Council on the whole, and I have never uttered a word against it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
The hon. Member certainly said that one of his reasons for objecting to these Bills was on account of the quarter from which they came.
§ *MR. TRITTON
Yes, because, as I maintain, the Progressives on the Council do not represent the bulk of the population of the Metropolis.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, the question is, How are we going to improve the administration of the water supply? I do not think that improvement will be facilitated by the rejection of these Bills or the constitution of a water trust which can do no possible good. The Bill of the Government is a measure that cannot work without the aid of further Bills. Looking at the whole history of this question, I regret extremely that the Government should have made up their minds to throw out, so far as I know, the only practical proposal for putting into the hands of a public body the water supply of the Metropolis. If you think there should be added to the County Council any other representatives, that might be considered, but there is nothing to prevent you taking over the agreements that have been made or may be made under these Bills, and consequently getting to work upon this matter at once. With reference to the Arbitration Clause, it could be altered by the Committee upstairs if it appeared to be unjust, and all I will say about it is that it is, practically speaking, the recommendation of another Committee. ["No, no!"] If it is not so, it is intended to be so and can be made so. I understand the Government have put their foot down against any variation of the Arbitration Clause, and have insisted on taking the Lands 29 Clauses Act absolutely. That is the position the Government take, and it is a position directly in conflict with the recommendation of the Committee over which Mr. Plunket presided. They are, therefore, in these two matters, in conflict with two Committees, the one over which the Home Secretary presided in 1891, and the one over which the right hon. Gentleman, whose absence from this House we all deplore—Mr. Plunket ["hear, hear!"]—presided in 1880 It is a strong thing to ask us, in conflict with such authorities, either to throw out these Bills because they would give an authority to the County Council, as recommended by the Home Secretary, and because they contain a deviation from the Arbitration Clause, which was recommended in principle by the Committee over which Mr. Plunket presided. ["Hear, hear!"] That is the reason why I do regret that the Government are determined to take the responsibility—and I think it is a very great responsibility—of throwing out these Bills. For my part, T shall vote for the Second Heading of the Bills, believing they are founded on sound principles, however much their details may be varied, and are likely, in the future, to give a better system of water supply to this great Metropolis. [Cheers.]
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
The present House of Commons is in possession of the whole of this question of the water supply of London, and I do not think they are likely to allow their decision to be entirely controlled by the Reports of Committees which sat in 1880 and 1891, especially if those Reports, as I shall show, are in themselves inconsistent. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down claims me as being jointly responsible with him for the Report of 1880, and it is quite true—in the sense that I was a Member of that Committee, and voted for the Report—that I had a certain responsibility. But he does me altogether too much honour when he says, in effect, that I was his joint collaborateur in the preparation of that Report. I should not have alluded to this matter—I should have thought it hardly worthy the attention of the House—if the right hon. Gentleman had not been constrained to make this direct 30 appeal to me. His memory, I am sorry to say, is short in reference to the whole subject. I beg to call to his mind a memorandum I prepared at his request—which he has, no doubt, among his papers now—in which I advised him to take a totally different course from that which, in his greater wisdom and entire discretion, he ultimately took. [Laughter and cheers.] I am not complaining of the right hon. Gentleman for neglecting my advice, but I do think it is rather strong, after having rejected my advice, to claim me as a supporter and joint collaborateur of the Report which was ultimately adopted in entire antagonism with that advice. ["Hear, hear!"] What happened in 1880? The Members of the then Government believed, I think with reason, that the terms which had been arranged by Sir Richard Cross, now Lord Cross, with the Water Companies were exorbitant terms, and accordingly we persuaded the majority of the Committee to that effect, and we destroyed Lord Cross's Bill. My advice to the right hon. Gentleman was to put something in place of that, not to be destructive merely, but constructive also, and I very much regret, and I think London has to regret, that he did not take my advice. Because, what is the fact? That for the 16 years since that day not one step has been taken in advance in the purchase of the Water Companies, and now the price you will have to pay, under any fair arbitration, will be some millions more even than the exorbitant price which, as we thought, Lord Cross was prepared prematurely to offer, ["Hear, hear!"] I say, then, I cannot claim any special responsibility for the Report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but I think I can claim an equal right with himself to interpret it, ["Hear, hear!"] I think I know what that Report meant, even although I may not have been so enthusiastic an admirer as the right hon. Gentleman, its author. The Report meant this, that in dealing with the subject a representative authority should be constituted, and by a representative authority we said and meant representative of the water consumers, we meant and said not only the water consumers of London, but the water consumers of the whole surrounding districts. ["Hear, hear!"] It is 31 perfectly absurd, and an entire inaccuracy of the right hon. Gentleman to contend we had in view then, if there had been a single municipality in London, the intrusting to that single municipality in London the interests of the water consumers. We never meant, or said, anything of the kind, but exactly the reverse, as I find in looking up a letter. I find a Motion was made on an Amendment to the Report of the right hon. Gentleman by Mr. Sclater-Booth, who proposed to strike out the words "together with the representatives of the outside districts." This was supported by the late Mr. Firth, who was an advocate of a single municipality for London, but the whole of the Members of the Government present opposed that Amendment and adhered to the original proposal of the Report, which was that this matter should be dealt with by a trust which represented the water consumers outside London as well as in. ["Hear, hear!"] That is exactly what the Government Bill is, and under these circumstances it is somewhat strange that the right hon. Gentleman should get up now, 16 years later, and repudiate the imitation, which ought to be the sincerest form of flattery, which the Government have made of his own proposal. ["Hear, hear!"] It is quite true that in 1891 a proposal somewhat different was made. But I think the House is in possession of the whole facts and may decide the question upon the merits, and I would put this specially before the London County Council and others who take a great interest in this matter. As a result of my experience, I was convinced you could not adopt a more unwise course than to seek to keep the whole of this business of the water supply of the whole of the metropolitan area in the hands of the London County Council without representatives of the local authorities outside. I have had a good deal of experience in this matter. I was chiefly instrumental in purchasing the water companies and gas companies of Birmingham. In both cases we had to deal with outside districts, and we made the mistake of not sufficiently taking into account—I won't call it the interests because we thought we could be answerable for the interests of the districts—but the sentiments of the outside localities, and the result was, in the 32 case of the gas purchase especially, that we were put to an enormous expenditure because of the opposition to the Bill which we brought forward, and, further, we had to give to them powers of separate administration and purchase, the effect of which was undoubtedly the multiplication of comparatively small gas-producing authorities, with the result that the proceeding was not as economical as it might have been. If we had constituted, as we ought to have done, a gas trust, giving a fair representation to outside bodies, all this would have been avoided, and large sums of money saved. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, I say, in my opinion, at any rate it is to the interests of all parties concerned that outsiders should feel themselves to be fully represented in the water trust, and their interest will then be exactly the same as that of the metropolitan authority. I do not believe that it would be found that they would be a hostile element, or a source of any kind of conflict, and on the other hand I am quite convinced there would be very much less friction. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman expresses his regret that a greater advance has not been made, and that these Bills which promised some approach to a settlement are being rejected and the Government Bill substituted. I regret that very much, because I believe it is really an unnecessary result. There are practically what I call three contentious interests in this matter—the interest represented by the London County Council, the interest represented by the outside authorities, and the interest represented by the Water Companies. As regards the London County Council, I am not one of those who have ever attacked the London County Council as a great representative municipal authority. On the contrary, I have the greatest sympathy with their work. I do not suppose that they are more infallible than other municipal authorities, and I have blamed them when they have been wrong; but I have never, either in this House or anywhere else, made anything like a general condemnation of their proceedings. In this matter, so far as the main principle goes, I am entirely in agreement. I do believe that, after the fullest inquiry, you will always a come back to this, that the water supply of a great city ought to be in the hands 33 of a representative authority. I admit there is something to be said for the greater control which might he given without actually purchasing. But if you can make the purchase on a fair basis, it is desirable in the interest of everybody that what is absolutely a necessary of life, of what is one of the most important adjuncts to the sanitary condition of a great population, should be under the control of the representatives of the people. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore I agree with the County Council in what I believe to be their main object, and agree with them also that it would be a most regrettable thing if now, when we are, as you may say, on the eve of a settlement once more, the whole matter should be thrown open, that it should be left to a new body to commence, probably at some length, on altogether new inquiries, and, having come to precisely the same conclusion, then to find they had got again to go through all these stages which have been partially accomplished already by the County Council. I think that would be very regrettable, and if that is the result of our proceedings very considerable responsibility must lie upon those who have brought it about. ["Hear, hear!"] It is because of that feeling that my right hon. Friend has gone to the extreme limit of making offers to all the interests concerned for the purpose of bringing about a general agreement. I must say (though I do not want to speak in a controversial spirit) that, in my opinion, the whole fault lies with the London County Council or those who represent it. As regards outside authorities I have already spoken. I believe their interest is satisfied when they are fairly and fully represented, as they have been in the Government Bill. It is quite true that these outside authorities have been over-represented if you have regard simply to population and rateable value. But that is a necessity, because you could not restrict them absolutely to representation in proportion only to their present population and rateable value. You have to consider whether they are distinct and separate interests, and I believe those interests are sufficiently safeguarded by the representation proposed in the Government Bill. The water companies have never 34 been obstructive in this country. They have always said:—You have not approached us as persons anxious to make a fair commercial arrangement, but as persons desirous of confiscating our property.The water companies have always said—We admit that the public interest is supreme, and, provided that private rights are respected in the same sense in which they have always been in the transactions of the House, and that those for whom we are trustees will be fairly treated in any purchase arrangements, we are prepared to dispose of our property.There you have the three contentious interests, and I maintain that they can all be conciliated. The water companies are conciliated if you give them the same Arbitration Clause that has been given in every other case in which a water company has been purchased by a Municipal Corporation. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green said that under this arrangement Municipal Corporations had claimed exorbitant prices. I do not know to what Corporation the hon. Member refers. It is not true of Birmingham. There we had the Arbitration Clause asked for by the London water companies, and, though we did not find it necessary to put that clause into effect, because we made a private agreement, we never contended that that clause imposed on the ratepayers any exorbitant price: and, so far as my knowledge of similar undertakings goes, there is no case in which more than a fair price has been paid. I ask the hon. Member for Shoreditch and others representing the London County Council whether they contend that it is their duty, representing the ratepayers, to get hold of this property at a price less than its fair value? That is not the duty of any representative body, and, that being so, they should be content to give to the water companies what they ask. If the terms on which they shall be purchased is to be settled by arbitration—which I hope will not be resorted to, because I should advise the parties to come to an amicable arrangement—they should have the same price that other companies in similar circumstances have had. I say that even at the eleventh hour I believe an agreement might be 35 come to if the London County Council would frankly agree that the Government Bill should go on and without opposition, on the understanding that the ordinary Arbitration Clause should be put in, and with the understanding, at the last stage, that the new Water Trust shall be substituted for the London County Council. In that event the position of the County Council would be that they would have—as they would be justified in claiming, having regard to the superiority of their representation as regards numbers and rateable value—a majority on the Water Trust. But I do not believe there would be, once this Water Trust were established, any sharp line drawn between the representatives of the metropolitan and the outside area. The interests are not conflicting, and I do not believe there would be any party or any permanent dividing line. The County Council would be fully and fairly represented. They have asked that this body should be a Statutory Committee of the Council. That would give the County Council an absolutely overbearing voice and vote on every proceeding of the Water Trust. We may as well hand the matter over to the County Council. It is an absurdity to ask local authorities from outside to discuss the matter, and then find the decision arrived at by the Committee, which has heard the whole proceeding, is to be opposed by the majority of the London County Council. That is not reasonable. The conclusion rests entirely with those who represent the County Council. They are blocking the way to a settlement. If they say, "We will not have a settlement unless you enable us to extort terms which have never been asked for in any previous case by a municipal authority," or say, "We will not deal with this matter unless you make us absolute master of the conclusions at which the Water Trust or authority will arrive"—then they are asking terms so exorbitant and unreasonable that they could not be conceded by the Government or the other interests concerned. But, if they were willing to accept the arrangement offered by my right hon. Friend, we might, even now, maintain these Bills, and by the end of the Session the new Water Trust would be constituted, with full power to carry out an amicable 36 arrangement with the companies or to go to arbitration. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
thought the speech of the Colonial Secretary would do much towards a settlement of this matter. With regard to the conditions as regarded the Government Bill that the right hon. Gentleman had laid down, no one would give a pledge not to criticise the Bill if they objected to it in principle.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said any arrangement would involve previous acceptance of the principles of the Bill. But that would not bar criticism of detail.
§ MR. BUXTON
said that he had not yet studied the text of the Bill, and until he had done so he could not undertake to accept its principle, which, to many of them, was not based on proper municipal authority. The second condition of the right hon. Gentleman was one which he did not see why, if there really was a desire for concession on both sides, some agreement might not be come to. The right hon. Gentleman forgot that Clause 6 of the Bill of last year had been withdrawn by the London County Council, as they proposed instead of it to introduce an Arbitration Clause, founded on the Report of the Plunket Committee, and which, in their opinion, carried out the proposals of the Committee. The hon. Member for Shoreditch had said, if it could be shown that the proposals of the Committee were not properly carried out, the London County Council, when that question was discussed upstairs, would be quite willing to accept any words which would carry out the proposals of the Committee. Therefore the County Council had already offered a compromise on the question of Arbitration. They did not wish to do injustice to either shareholders or ratepayers. He asked the House to listen to the clause it was proposed to substitute for Clause 6; it read as follows:—And whereas (failing agreement as to sale and purchase) in order to determine the fair and reasonable value of the Undertaking, it is intended to provide that the Arbitrators should, in determining such value, have regard to all the circumstances of the case, and should hear and consider all matters, whether past, present, or future, laid before them by either party, relating to any such circumstances, and should not be precluded by any legal objection from entertaining the same:37Be it therefore enacted—There shall be paid by the Council for the transfer of the Undertaking such a sum of money as the Arbitrators determine to represent the fair and reasonable value of the Undertaking, together with such further sum us the Arbitrators may award, to meet the cost of reinvesting such money (in the event of no arrangement being made by the Council under which such money may be re-invested without cost) and the Arbitrators, in order to ascertain such sum, shall inquire into, and consider, all the circumstances of the case, and the contentions of the Council and the Lambeth Company respectively, and may deal with the same, or any of them, in such manner as they in (heir absolute and unfettered discretion think fit, on such terms and in such manner, in all respects, as they think fair, reasonable, and expedient, and as fully and effectually as could be done by Act of Parliament.The Arbitrators may, at any stage of the proceedings, under the reference to them, and shall, if so directed by the Court, or a Judge, state, in the form of a special case, any question of law arising In the course of the reference and any question of law so stated shall be for the determination of the Court, subject to all rights of appeal as from a Judgment or Order of the Court.It would hardly be possible to devise words which would give the arbitrator more absolute freedom to do what all wanted to have done—to arrive at the fair value of the Water Companies' property for purchase. He did not see how the County Council could offer fairer terms to the companies than those recommended by a Committee of the House. He was afraid they could not at the present moment accept the other proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, which was that they would not offer opposition to his Bill in the future; but he did hope that one consequence of the Delate of that evening would be that the two parties would have made a nearer approach than on any previous occasion, and that this would help towards attaining what they all had at heart, namely the purchase, at n. fair price, of the works of the London Water Companies by some municipal authority whatever it might be.
§ *MR. W. F. D. SMITH (Westminster, Strand)
said, that the Members on the Ministerial side of the House had heard with satisfaction the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. The position now occupied was very different from that of last year. The proposal of a trust had entirely changed the situation, and therefore 38 they could not, as they did last year, take up a position in any way favourable to the transfer Bills of the County Council. At any rate, now there were two lines of policy which were sufficiently definite for Members to be able to distinguish between them. There was the policy proposed by the County Council and that initiated by the Government, and on that side of the House they were certainly in favour of the policy proposed by the Government. The question was one of very great importance to the metropolis, and, on the part of the Unionist Members, he urged on the Government the importance of pressing forward as rapidly as they could the Bill they had introduced into the other House.
§ *SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said, they had heard nothing yet in reference to the districts outside the metropolis. Many of them opposed the County Council Bills on different grounds from those which had been stated. No doubt it was true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary had stated, that more would have to be paid for the works of the companies now, than would have had to be paid under Mr. Smith's agreement: but that was because the water companies had since that agreement spent a great deal on now Works; and this money would have had to be spent by the public if they had bought the waterworks at the time. Anyone listening to the hon. Member for Shoreditch would have supposed that he was speaking for almost the whole of the London County Council. When their Parliamentary Committee proposed an arrangement—totally different from this, the hon. Member moved as an Amendment that the present Bills should be proceeded with, and that Amendment was defeated in the London County Council. The fact was that opinions were almost equally divided. If the House went to a Vote on these transfer Bills, it would be found that, not only a large majority of London Members, but a majority of those representing outside areas were opposed to the Bills, because it was believed that, if they were passed, there would be an increase in the water rates that consumers would be called upon to pay.
§ *MR. PERCY THORNTON (Clapham)
said, it had been stated by the hon. 39 Member for Bethnal Green that local authorities in the south-west of London had expressed themselves favourably to the policy of the London County Council. The Wandsworth District Board of Works, representing Clapham, Putney, Streatham and Wandsworth, had petitioned against these Bills and in favour of a Water Trust. It might be true, as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green said, that people in his part of London favoured the acquisition of the water companies by the London County Council. It was certainly not so in the south-west of the Metropolis, where, although dissatisfied with the water companies, a majority desired to see a water trust as a halfway house, in preference to the domination of Spring Gardens.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, his statement referred to local authorities outside the area of the London County Council.
§ *MR. THORNTON
said, a paper which had been circulated by the London County Council spoke of the suburbs.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 123; Noes, 287.—(Division List, No. 65.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.