HC Deb 14 July 1897 vol 51 cc113-24

  1. (1)Any water consumer or any local authority may complain to the Railway and Canal Commission that any of the metropolitan water companies has failed to perform some statutory duty of the company, and the Commission may hear awl determine that complaint, and, if satisfied of such failure, order the company within the time limited by the order to fulfil the duty, and may either impose any penalty for such failure which can he imposed under any other Act, or enforce such order ill like manner as any other order of the Commission.
  2. (2) If at any time complaint as to the quantity and quality of the water supplied by any of the metropolitan water companies for domestic use is made to the Railway awl Canal Commission, by any water consumer or local authority, the Commission nay hear and determine such complaint, and, if satisfied that the complaint is well founded, may order the company, within such reasonable time as is specified in the order, to remove the ground of such complaint, and may enforce such order in like manner as any other order of the Commission.
  3. (3) All enactments relating to the Railway and Canal Commission (except Section 2 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act 1894, which restricts the power to award costs) shall with the necessary modifications, apply to the Railway and Canal Commission for the purpose of their jurisdiction under this Act.
  4. (4) This Act shall be in addition to and not in substitution for any existing proceedings or remedy."


moved an Amendment empowering the Commissioners on complaint made and on being satisfied that a company had acted negligently, and by so doing had endangered the health of any person or persons, to impose a penalty not exceeding £10 on the company in the case of every person whose health had been so endangered. He was confident that the object of the Amendment, would command the sympathy of all parts of the House. Under Sub-section (1) it was possible to impose a penalty on the companies in cases of breach of statutory duty, but there were a certain number of cases which were not within the penalty imposed by Sub-section (1), but which yet deserved to be dealt with. One might contemplate cases where there was no breach of statutory duty, and yet the company might be to blame, and he suggested that in hose cases a penalty ought to attach Take the case where the companies were exempted under the existing law by reason of the fact that failure to supply water had arisen from frost or unusual drought. In that case the statutory duty falls to the ground. The, companies were exempted from all obligation. Yet they might be negligent. Suppose unusual drought, and suppose it was possible for a company to obtain a supply by connecting its mains with the mains of another company; if the company failed to do that, it would be held to be negligent, and if in, consequence any disease broke out in the district that would be a very proper case for imposing a penalty. He submitted, therefore, that the Amendment was not unnecessary, and he suggested also that it would not, be difficult to work. There would be no difficulty in obtaining evidence from the medical officer, whether or not failure to, afford a supply had injured the health of any number of the inhabitants amid produced an insanitary state in the district. The Amendment was not in the least degree hostile to the companies who properly fulfilled their duty; on the contrary, it was of the greatest benefit to a non-negligent company that the law should be strengthened against, those, which were negligent.


pointed out that under the Canal Traffic Act there was power for the Railway Commissioners to award damages and impose penalties for noncompliance with any orders that might, be made by them. Not only so, but under the Metropolitan Water Act, 1852, they could impose lines of £200 with a. further fine of £100 for every single month during which those orders remain unfulfilled. Those powers appeared to be ample to enforce the law as it, stood. The Amendment went a great deal further than anything contemplated in the present Bill, and involved an entirely new departure, and was totally unnecessary for the purpose in, view. The noble Lord hardly realised how far his Amendment went. Many of the districts of the water companies had a population of a quarter or half a million of inhabitants, and supposing half of them suffered in the way apprehended it might mean a colossal fine imposed on the company. In any case the Amendment went entirely beyond the purpose of the Bill, and he was sorry he could not accept it.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

reminded the right hon. Gentleman that on the Second Reading he stated he would welcome any Amendment which went to strengthen the Bill. In his judgment the Bill was a very inadequate Measure to deal with the question which the right hon. Gentleman said ought to be dealt with. It only gave an additional tribunal, but it did not strengthen or improve the position of the water consumer. The noble Lord had in this respect proposed what appeared to be a very reasonable Amendment. Looking at existing Acts and the method of their administration, there was nothing in them which protected the consumer against such a failure as the noble Lord proposed to guard against. He hoped that the noble Lord would divide the Committee in order to show whether the Government were really in earnest in their desire to deal with the water question, or whether they had simply introduced a Bill to stave off demands without any intention or desire to deal with the matter in an adequate way.

MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said that the right hon. Gentleman had taken a technical objection to the Amendment on the ground that it went beyond the scope of the Bill, which was limited to providing greater facilities for enforcing the existing law. This, was not accurate. The right hon. Gentleman had lost sight of Clause 3 of the Bill, which provided that the Metropolis Water Acts of 1852 and 1871 should extend outside to the whole area supplied by the companies. This Bill, therefore, extended the existing obligations of the Company. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be aghast at the amount of penalties which the water companies might incur under this Amendment; but the amount of the penalty would be directly proportioned to the amount of public mischief. The Amendment was an excellent one, and he hoped that the noble Lord would go to a division.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 110; Noes, 190.—(Division List, No. 300.)

MR. EDMUND BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

moved, in Sub-section (3), after the word "enactments," to insert the words "as to procedure." He said that the object of his Amendment was to secure that there should be no alteration of the powers of the Commissioners to decide what were reasonable charges. He did not suppose there was any intention on the part of the Government to make any such alteration, and he should be quite satisfied if he received an assurance to that effect.


said he had no hesitation in giving the lion. Member the assurance he desired. The words were inserted because there was jurisdiction in the Act of 1894 to inquire as to the reasonableness of charges; but this Act gave no power whatever to interfere with the statutory rights and liabilities of the companies. On the contrary, it was for the purpose of enforcing those rights and liabilities, and there would be no power to lower charges assuming, that they were not more than the maximum statutory rates. The words moved were not in his opinion necessary; they might, if inserted, have an undue effect in limiting the rights of proprietors, and he was sure that their absence would not have the effect the hon. Member feared.


moved, at the end of Sub-section (3), to insert after "Act":— Provided that, in awarding damages under Section 12 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act 1888 to any aggrieved party, the Commissioners shall have regard not only to any pecuniary loss such party shall have sustained, but also to the injury or danger to health, the nuisance and inconvenience to which such party shall have been exposed by reason of a bad or deficient supply of water. The Amendment, he said, was complementary to the other, but more moderate in character. The President of the Local Government Board had explained that under the Bill as it stood power was given to the Commissioners to award damages under Section 12 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, but on perusal of that section he thought it would be seen that pecuniary loss only was contemplated. Now, of course, pecuniary loss was not by any means the most important injury inflicted by a defective supply of water. The suffering inflicted by a defective supply of water was not usually measured by pecuniary loss; and Section 12 being nugatory, as it practically would be in connection with the provisions of this Bill, he proposed to add these words to show that damages were to be awarded for injury of any kind caused by a defective or had supply of water. There were several ways in which injury might be inflicted that was hardly measurable by the pecuniary loss entailed, such as nuisance, danger to health, and inconvenience. Take the matter of inconvenience in the first place. A family might suffer severely by the burden put upon them of getting their own supply of water from a standpipe, and the inconvenience might lie much greater than was generally appreciated. The case of nuisance was the obvious one of drains, through lack of flushing, producing bad smells. It appeared to him to be in strict harmony with English law that in the case of injury of that sort damages should he awarded, because it was well known that any one causing a nuisance to his neighbour was liable to action. Then it was obvious that a nuisance might go further still; disease might break out and cause a substantial addition to the injury sustained by the family, whose health might be seriously endangered. Here again it was in strict harmony with the ordinary procedure of law that a right to damages should be given. Therefore the Amendment was of a very moderate character indeed. It only substituted the expeditious method provided by the Bill for the recovery of damages which under the ordinary administration of the law were usually compensated for by action. It did not in any degree whatever add to the burdens the water companies had at present to bear. It did not propose to alter their statutory duties; it was merely intended to make the Bill practically effective. If the Amendment was not accepted, the power to award pecuniary damages only was comparatively unimportant, and the Bill would be greatly defective. He strongly urged on his right hon. Friend and on the water companies that this kind of Amendment was for their own interest. If the grievances of consumers were met by a really effective remedy, then assuredly when the final settlement of the water question came it would be all the better for the companies. ["Hear, hear!"] If they were to go on with the acute sense of wrong and of grievance which at present existed in many parts of London, then when the final settlement came the water companies would suffer most of all. Therefore, not only in the interests of the consumers, but also in the interest of the security of the water companies' property, he strongly urged the Government to accept his Amendment.


said he hoped the Committee would not adopt the Amendment. His noble Friend seemed to think that if it were adopted it would alter the general law with regard to proceedings against water companies for damages. If that were the case, this Bill certainly would not be a proper occasion fen introducing a special enactment of the kind. The whole scope of the Bill was to provide better machinery for enforcing rights and liabilities already existing. But he was unable to agree that the Amendment was wanted at all. He did not read the power to award damages under the 12th Section of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act as being confined to awards in respect of pecuniary loss. The power to award damages was a power based on those principles of common sense which he hoped he was not unduly sanguine in thinking underlay English common law. ["Hear, hear!"] If a man was not supplied with an article which he had a right to demand, and he went into the market to get it, the Measure of damages was the increased cost in supplying himself elsewhere. If it was possible to get the article elsewhere, and he simply sat down in idleness and aggravated his loss, that was his own affair. But if it was impossible, as in the case of a deficient supply of water, to go and get a proper supply elsewhere, then he would be entitled to damages for any loss, inconvenience, or injury to health. If, to take one of the cases the noble Lord had referred to, a family was put to inconvenience by being taken away from its ordinary pursuits to carry water, it was quite clear that under the 12th Section the Commissioners could award compensation both for any money spent on water-carriers and for the inconvenience suffered. There could be no doubt also that injuries to health would entitle a consumer to damages as against a water company. It seemed to fit in with the general principles of the law of damages as he had explained them. The Amendment was therefore unnecessary. But if there was any ground for the idea under which the Amendment had been moved—that it would alter the law of damages—then he must say that this was not the occasion for making such an alteration.


intimated that the Solicitor General had mistaken him.


said the idea was that the Amendment would alter in some way the effect of the 12th Section. But the damages awarded by the Commissioners under that Section must be awarded according to the general law of the land, and if the Amendment had the effect of altering the amount of damages to be awarded it would not be properly inserted in a Bill introduced for the purposes explained by his right hon. Friend. His own view was that the Amendment was quite unnecessary.


doubted whether any consumer who had taken action under the existing law, and who had not been able to prove monetary loss, bad been awarded pecuniary damages. It was desirable to make it quite clear that actual pecuniary loss was not the only damage to the consumer for which the law provided. According to the Solicitor General the Amendment would not add to the existing law. If that was correct, it ought still to be inserted in the Bill as declaratory of the law, so that the consumer might learn that he possessed rights of the existence of which he was at present unaware.

MR. LIONEL HOLLAND (Tower Hamlets, Bow and Bromley)

supported the Amendment, on the ground that the intention of the law, as declared by the Solicitor General, ought to be made quite clear.


thought that inconvenience would result if consumers were led to believe that they would be able to go before the Commissioners and get damages without proving that they had suffered some pecuniary loss. Legal damages were intended to make good a pecuniary loss. If, for example, a man had to sacrifice valuable time in fetching water for his household he could be compensated, or, if he suffered in health through the action of a water company, he could obtain compensation in respect of his doctor's fees and other expenses. The Solicitor General had shown that under the present law a person who sustained pecuniary damage could obtain redress in the form of pecuniary compensation. The Amendment, in his opinion, was mere verbiage, and would encumber the Bill with a layman's views on this subject. [Laughter.] The points put by the noble Lord were all met already by the existing law.

SIR J. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

said that he should support the Amendment, because he believed that it was the wish of the Committee that the water companies should be mulcted if they caused an individual inconvenience or annoyance. Compensation ought not to be confined to cases in which there was actual monetary loss.

*MR. ALFRED HOPKINSON (Wilts, Cricklade)

doubted whether, under the existing law, anything, could be recovered front a. water company by a family who had suffered inconvenience by being deprived of water and baths for a. week or two. [Laughter.] He was not sure what the decisions of the Courts in cases where such inconvenience had been caused would be, though he hoped they might be in accordance with the view of the Solicitor General, and therefore he held that the words now proposed ought to be inserted in the Bill as useful declaratory terms. Proceedings taken under Section 12 of the Act of 1858 ought, it might be argued, to be limited to cases of pecuniary loss. He did not agree with the bon. Member for West Fife that actions for damages could only be instituted when actual pecuniary loss Lad been suffered. Were there not actions for libel and slander, for example, in which substantial damages could be recovered, though there had been no pecuniary loss?


reminded the Committee that a deficiency in the water supply might be caused by frost, or by a refusal Of statutory powers to extend their reservoirs. If the Amendment were carried water companies would be held responsible for many things over which they really had no control.


said that the attitude of the Solicitor General towards this Amendment reminded hint of Caliph Omar, who destroyed the library at Alexandria on the ground that if the books therein agreed with the Book of God they were useless, and if they disagreed they were pernicious. [Laughter.] The very fact that the Government opposed the Amendment convinced him that it would make a difference in some way or other. If it did not matter whether the Amendment was passed or negatived why had the Government wasted half an hour in opposing it? The fact was that the Amendment would cover cases which ought to be met but which the existing law did not provide for. There was a story of Tallyrand that in an interview he had with some representatives of commerce one of them made the remark, "That goes without saying." "Well," said Tallyrand, "if it goes so well without saying, it will go even better by saying it." [Laughter.] The Government seemed prepared to deny the people who really suffered proper damages, which they themselves had not the courage to affirm were improper damages. It was on that issue they were going to divide. ["Hear, hear!"]

Question put, "That those words be these inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 108; Noes, I92.—(Division List, No. 301.)


moved to add the following sub-section to the clause:— (5) In any proceedings under this Act before the Railway and Canal Commission the costs shall not exceed the limits prescribed by the Commission. The hon. Member said he had adopted similar words to those used by the Gov- ernment in the Workmen's Compensation Bill with a view to diminishing costs He wished to follow the same principle and diminish costs under the Railway and Canal Commission. Where arbitration was resorted to, the costs should also be as low as possible. The chief object of his Amendment was to obtain information from t he Government in regard to the new tribunal to which appeals under the Bill would go. If the Bill was to be effective, means should be given to the consumer to obtain the judgment of the Commission as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible. The tribunal proposed by the Government under this Bill was a very serious one, to compel the consumer and local authority to go before if they wanted a remedy for their grievances, because it was well known that most of the cases before the Railway and Canal Commission were cases in which a large number of expensive counsel were employed, and the results were costly. Unless the tribunal were an inexpensive one it would be a mockery to offer it to the water consumers as a remedy for their grievances. Most of the cases of inefficiency and incompetence took place in regard to the water companies in the poorer parts of London. It was just there that most of the cases which ought to be taken before the Court would occur, and it was just there that, unless the costs of such proceedings were reduced to a minimum it would be impossible for the individual or the local authority to take any action in regard to the matter. He should like to know what would be the probable nature of the proceedings, their cost, and whether the Government would not limit the expenses of cases before this tribunal under the present Bill as they had done under the Accidents to Workmen Compensation Bill. He begged to move the Amendment.


could not help thinking that the hon. Gentleman in proposing this Amendment had done so under some misconception. He had spoken of this as a Bill compelling the poor local consumer and the poor local authority to go before a very expensive tribunal. The Bill did nothing of the kind. It retained all the remedies which existed at the present, but it gave the further option to complainants of going before the Railway Commission if they preferred it.


The whole object of the Bill is to provide a more expeditious and better remedy for the individual consumer and local authority. I know that the present rights are not interfered with, but my argument is that it is a mockery and a sham to offer a new tribunal unless it is an inexpensive one.


replied that what the hon. Gentleman DOW said was different to what he said a few minutes ago. He then spoke of compelling the water consumer to go before this expensive tribunal. But that was not the Bill. The Bill gave the consumer all his rights, and then allowed him, if lie preferred, to go before this further tribunal if lie should think this necessary. The hon. Gentleman asked what the cost of such proceedings would be. It was absolutely impossible to say, because the costs must vary indefinitely according to the nature of the case, the amount of evidence, and the sort of question upon which the complainant invoked the assistance of professional men for the purpose of arriving at a decision before the Railway Commission. The Amendment, therefore, would not achieve the object which the hon. Gentleman had at heart, because he did not go on to prescribe that the Railway Commission should say that the cost must be smaller in these cases than before the Railway Commission was set up as a tribunal, and if he had done so, he was not at all sure it would be to the interest of those who wanted a thoroughly efficient and inexpensive tribunal. The truth was that the Amendment was altogether unnecessary, as the costs were in the discretion of the Commissioners, and would be so in any application under the Bill. These costs would be taxed in the ordinary way by the taxing master, who was most competent to say what were fair charges.


, after this assurance, said he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2,—