HC Deb 24 June 1897 vol 50 cc485-98

Motion made, "That the Bill be now considered."

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

proposed to leave out the words "now considered," in order to add the words "re-committed to the former Committee." He said that the circumstances under which the Bill came before the House, and the situation in which hon. Members found themselves placed in relation to it, were briefly these. For a number of years past the amount of water drawn from the River Thames by the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company had been very considerably in excess of that which the Company were legally authorised to take. In these circumstances in the early part of the year, the Thames Conservancy had applied for and had obtained an injunction in the High Court for the purpose of preventing the Company from taking that extra amount of water. The result had been that the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company had thought it necessary to introduce the present Measure, to legalise the overdraft, and to enable them to continue to take the extra amount of water or some other quantity of water from the River Thames. He need scarcely say that the passing of this Bill would make a very great difference in the legal status of the Company, as it would give them the legal right to draw a very large additional quantity of water to enable them to supply the requirements of the district they served with water. The London County Council had made the Company this offer—namely, that they would not oppose the Bill if it merely took the shape of postponing the operation of the injunction. The effect of the measure in that case would be merely to preserve the status quo for a limited period. If that course were adopted there would be ample opportunity for consideration as to what should be the ultimate position of the Company in the matter. He thought that it was due to the Committee upstairs, before whom the Bill had come, to say that they appeared to be in favour of passing some Bill permitting the Company to take the overdraft of water for a limited period, but doing absolutely no more than that. If that were the view of the Committee, which he believed it really was, that view had not been carried out in the clause of the Bill simply because the London County Council had not appeared as the opponents of the Measure. No doubt the objections raised to the Bill in its present form had been sufficiently indicated by the line of cross-examination of the promoters' witnesses before the Committee, but the London County Council themselves were not heard through their own witnesses. Let them look at the Bill itself and ask themselves whether it did simply preserve the status quo. The very title of the Bill showed that it was intended to authorise the Water Company to take an increased quantity of water from the Thames for an indefinite period. He had no desire to weary the House by going into minute details on this question, but he might point out that it was set forth in the preamble of the Measure that it was absolutely necessary that the Company should be authorised to take an additional quantity of water from the river to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations. The Bill contained no indication whatever that it was intended to he merely a temporary Measure. Then by the 4th clause of the Bill the Company were directed to bring in the Bill in the course of next year to authorise them to take the additional amount of water after the expiration of the powers conferred by this Bill. He wished to point out, therefore that this Bill would direct the Water Company by Act of Parliament to bring in a Measure rant Session to authorise them to take an additional amount of water from the River Thames to enable them to supply their area. That would be a very strong course to adopt, seeing that last year the Committees of that House had been instructed in the case of a number of Water Bills to do no more than was absolutely essential to meet the exigencies of the moment. He contended that this Bill went beyond what was required to be done at the present moment. Had the London County Council been heard before the Committee, they would have objected to the statement put forward on behalf of the promoters of the Bill that this Measure was absolutely necessary to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations. He merely desired to point out to the House that this Bill did a great deal more than to merely preserve the status quo. It must be remembered that at the present time a Royal Commission was sitting for the purpose of inquiry into the whole question of the water supply of London, and in the face of that Royal Commission they were asked to direct one of the London Water Companies to bring in a Bill to regularise their position by authorising them to take an additional supply of water from the Thames, thus conferring upon them a power that was not extended to any other of the London Water Companies. He maintained that nothing more ought to be done than to preserve the status quo until the Royal Commission had made their Report. He hoped that the House would see that there was no desire on the part of the London County Council to unduly interfere with the action of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, and that their only object was to leave the Company alone until the Royal Commission had reported in reference to the status of every one of the London Water Comparties. He did not ask the House to go into details that were only suitable for the consideration of a Committee upstairs, and he merely asked that the Bill should be recommitted to the former Committee in order that it might be converted into a temporary Measure. He agreed with Lord Robert Cecil, who, in the course of his examination of the promoter's witnesses pointed out that the injunction need not be enforced, but on the other hand the Thames Conservancy had intimated that they should deem, it to be their duty in the existing state of the law to enforce the injunction. He could not blame the Committee that this Jubilee week they had not gone at length into all the details of the matter, but however much they might sympathise with the action of the Committee, they must feel that it was absolutely necessary that the powers to be conferred by the Measure should be of a strictly temporary character. He repudiated the suggestion that those hon. Members on both sides of the House who were acting with him in this matter were endeavouring to defeat the Bill, and he did not believe that any Member of the House would be a party to such action. It had been suggested that the necessary alteration of the Measure in order to render it of a temporary nature might be effected most advantageously in the Committee of the House of Lords, but he did not wish that the case of the London County Council with regard to the Measure should be prejudiced before the Lords Committee by the fact that the Committee of that House had with their eyes open and of their own motion agreed that this Measure should contain permanent provisions. If the Committee intended that the Bill should do more than maintain the status quo they should have heard the opponents of the Measure upon the point. If, on the other hand, the Bill went beyond what the Committee intended, the Committee ought to have an opportunity of altering it so as to make it in accordance with their real intention. He begged to move the Motion which stood upon the Paper in his name.

MR. JAMES BIGWOOD (Middlesex, Brentford)

in seconding the Motion, asked the House to do justice to Middlesex in reference to this. Measure. Middlesex would be affected in a variety of ways if this Bill were to become law in its present shape, and those who were in a position to represent the County had petitioned against the Measure. They had placed themselves in the hands of the most able lawyer, who was much astonished at the decision arrived at by the Committee, who would not give him a hearing. If time permitted he could go into the whole history as to how the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company came to introduce this Bill. If the Measure were altered so that it would be merely a temporary Bill, no time would be lost. The Company had offended against the law in the opinion of the Thames Conservancy by taking more water from the Thames than they were authorised to do, and an injunction was obtained against them to restrain them from continuing to take the overdraft. The Company had consequently brought in the present Measure to authorise them to continue to take the extra amount of water from the river. To that he had no objection, provided that the powers so, to be conferred upon the Company were of a merely temporary character. He appealed to the House not to allow the Bill to pass in its present form. He asked that justice should be done in this matter, because he thought that the Committee had acted in a very high-handed manner. He did not suggest that the Committee were in a hurry to get through their work; but he did ask the House that the case of the petitioners against. the Bill might be heard by the Committee upstairs.

MR. JAMES RANKIN (Herefordshire, Leominster)

, speaking as a Member of the Committee before whom this Bill had come, said that there was but little difference between the Committee and the hon. Member for Shoreditch with regard to the. Measure The action of the Committee in passing the Bill in its present shape was due to the fact that, in 'consequence of the injunction against the Company having been obtained, it was a matter of great urgency that such a Measure should be passed in order to prevent a water famine in the south of London. The question was one of very great importance, indeed so much, so as to override all ordinary red tape modes of procedure. It was certainly intended by the Committee that the Bill should be of a merely temporary character. It must be remembered that the Committee were sitting after the House had risen for the Whitsun holidays, and again their proceedings had been interrupted by the adjournment for the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty. They had been informed that there were a great number of witnesses to be called on both sides, and if this were not to be a prolonged Session, which he hoped would not be the case, it would have been impossible had the whole case on both sides been gone into, for the Bill to have got through both Houses of Parliament before the Prorogation. These were considerations which had undoubtedly weighed with the Committee to a considerable extent, but if it were thought desirable that the Bill should be altered in any respect, the Committee would be glad to have the opportunity of putting it right. He might say that the whole objections of the petitioners had been fully placed before the Committee. The petitioners had relied upon three points. They suggested in the first place that the injunction might have been suspended; but when it was stated that the Thames Conservancy in the exercise of their lawful discretion intended to enforce it, the Committee felt that they could not set aside an injunction of the High Court of Justice. Then it was contended that the leakage from the mains and pipes of the Company was so great as to equal the extra amount of water they desired power to obtain, but the Company's witnesses disproved that assertion. The third point was that other water corn- panics might supply the area in question if authorised to do so by Parliament. But it was impossible that a Measure for that purpose could be passed in time to prevent the people of the South of London from experiencing 'a water famine. The Committee had therefore come to a unanimous decision against the case of the petitioners. He, however, was quite wiling to say that it was the undoubted intention of the Committee that the status quo should be preserved with the exception that the Company were to be authorised to take an additional supply of water from the Thames for a limited period. He hoped, however, that it would not be necessary to refer the Bill back to the old Committee, as the needful alterations could be far more advantageously effected in it by the Committee of the other House.

*SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

, having been Chairman of some of the Committees which had considered the Water Bills, thought that he might say a few words that would tend to bring this discussion to a close. No doubt there was much to be said in favour of a temporary power being conferred upon this Company to enable them to supply their area with water, but they all felt that no more water should be taken from the Thames until the Royal Commission had reported upon the whole question of the water supply of London, and until that question had been settled by Parliament. He thought that the Bill should be converted into a temporary one to be to be in operation for two years only, and that the clauses suggesting that Parliament should, another Session, confer permanent powers upon the Company should be withdrawn either by recommittal before the Committee upstairs or before that of the other House. It would certainly be a most serious matter for the House to commit itself to authorising the Company to draw 41,000,000 of gallons of water daily from the Thames instead of the 24,500,000 gallons they were now authorised to take without inquiry.

*SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)

said he wished to state his position, confining himself entirely to the case of the Thames Conservancy. He had nothing to do with the Water Company one way or the other. Parliament had given the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company power to take 24½ million gallons per day, but for years that Company had been taking 40 millions daily without the consent of the Conservancy, and in contravention of their Act of Parliament. In his position as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy he had consulted some of the Members of the Ministry as to what his duty was, and he was advised that he was bound to go to the Law Courts to prevent the continued breach of the Act of Parliament, because if this breach were allowed to continue unchallenged, if the London County Council or any other authority in the future should take over the undertaking of the Company, the compensation to the Company would be based on this power the Company had exercised to take the larger quantity. For years the Company had been doing no less than stealing the water and selling it to their customers. He did not wish to put it too strongly, but it was so. [Laughter.] The Conservancy took proceedings to obtain an injunction, and in effect the Judge said, "We will give you an order to prevent the breach of the Act, but in order that interference with the supply of the Company may not bring about the danger of a water famine, we will give the Company twelve months to obtain from Parliament a temporary measure enabling them to take legally what they have been taking illegally." A Bill was brought in, the Standing Orders of the House being suspended in order that it might get through. It was for twelve months, and at the expiration of that period another Bill would be introduced settling all questions between the Conservancy and the Company. As a Member for the county and Chancellor of the Exchequer for Middlesex, he was of course much interested in the county, and would be the last to support a Bill that would be injurious to the county. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Brentford that the interests of the county had not been fairly considered, but he had had an assurance from the promoters that in the forthcoming Bill there should be fair recognition of the just claims of Middlesex. But his point was this. If the House acceded to the Motion for recommittal, the Bill would in. all probability be lost, and the House would be responsible for that water famine that would probably result. The London County Council was actuated by the idea that by pursuing this policy of opposition the Company would be put into a position in which their undertaking could be acquired on cheaper terms, but without doubt the responsibility of a water famine, would that be the result of the loss of the Bill, and the responsibility would be with the House of Commons. In January next the Thames Conservancy would put the injunction in force and restrict the supply of water to the terms of the Act. There was an ample supply of water in the Thames for all London for a hundred years to come, but the principle upon which the Conservancy proceeded was, that the water should be taken in a legal manner in the winter season, and stored in reservoirs for the summer supply, and not taken in the summer to the injury of the navigation, when the water was low. Water taken in such a way from the Thames would be better and cheaper for the people of London than if provided in any other way by the County Council. He hoped the House would not take the responsibility of recommitting the Bill, but would allow it to go forward through its stages, and next year, after the usual notices given in November, a Bill could be introduced upon which all questions could be fully discussed.

MR. SKEWES-COX (Surrey, Kingston)

said he did not for a moment desire to prevent the Company obtaining the supply of water required; what he complained of was the waste of water by the Company through leakage. Half the water taken from the river by this Company was wasted, the ground was saturated, roads were constantly being disturbed, and traffic suspended almost daily, and roads were only made up again in a temporary way. The local authorities desired to state their grievances before the Committee, and to have provisions inserted in the Bill requiring the Company to make up the roads properly, or, failing this, the local authority should be empowered to charge the Company the cost of making up the roads. The local authority had not been heard, and they desired that an undertaking should be given that they should be allowed a locus standi in respect of their grievances.

SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)

hoped the House would not recommit the Bill. In the London County Council he had spoken against the opposition to this Bill, which emanated from Progressive Members who had determined to fight the Water Companies on every possible occasion. The Water Companies had to make every effort to meet the enormously increasing demand for water in the south of London and avert a water famine. The Motion for recommittal was made with the hope of defeating the Bill, the Progressive Members of the County Council hoping in this way to bring Water Companies "to their knees," as they termed it.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

thought there would be little difficulty in coining to a general agreement. Every one, in spite of what the hon. Baronet, whom he congratulated on his new honours, had just said, would desire that the Company should be able to obtain the supply of water required, and that its position should be legalised; but in legalising that position the question of the London water supply should be in no way prejudiced. The Government had appointed a Commission, and it was hoped that upon their Report some general agreement On the question of the London water supply would be arrived at. He had heard with pleasure what had fallen from the Chairman of the Committee on the Bill, that so far as) the Committee was concerned, its somewhat unusual action would not prejudice the position as affecting the Southwark and Vauxhall Company. Under those conditions he thought his hon. Friend and those on that side of the House who were interested in the matter would be willing to allow the Bill to pass on the promise or pledge given the Chairman of the Committee, and it those interested in the Bill would also endorse what he had said, he thought that the passing of the Bill would not tend to prejudice their position. As far as he could see, the simplest way in which this could be turned into a practical matter would be for the promoters of the Bill—and perhaps the Government themselves might see their way to ask it—to withdraw Clause 4 when the Bill came before the Committee of the other House. To that clause, or a subsection of it, which contained an instruction to proceed with a Bill empowering the company to take further water from the Thames, they had great objections; and if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board could suggest to the promoters of the Bill that they should withdraw that part of the Clause 4, he himself should have no further objection to the Bill, and ho thought the House generally would be pretty unanimous in that sense.

*MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said he had not intervened in the Debate before, because the House always—and very properly—heard with great reserve anyone interested in undertakings affected by Private Bill legislation. But he was bound to rise in answer to the appeals which had: been made to him. The desire of the Company was to legalise their position. That was their reason, and their sole reason, for bringing in the Bill. Incidentally, the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board would pardon him for saying that he was not accurate in describing the Company as for many years disobeying the authority of Parliament. What took place was this. The Company were placed under a. maximum limit of water, not by statutory terms, but by an agreement, the validity of which had been more than once questioned by parties external to the Company. It was the settlement of that question, and not the words of the statute, which was decided by the Court when it granted the injunction spoken of that day. Having got rid in that way of a statement which would certainly prejudice the Company if it had been accurately stated by his right hon. Friend, he ventured to say this to the House. The Company wished to be hi a position to supply their customers with water without fail; and that was in the interest of the public health and for the common good. If he did not at the present moment say that they were prepared to withdraw Clause 4, either in that House or at subsequent stages of the Bill, he hesitated to do so because the question had not been put to him before; mid they were bound to consult the Thames Conservancy mid other parties before they could give any such promise. As regarded the claim made by the hon. Member for the Kingston Division, he believed the hon. Gentleman and others were acting from a feeling that if they did not secure a locus standi with respect to the Bill in the present Session, they would somehow be cheated of their opportunity next Session. That was not the wish of the Company. It was not in the power of the Company to grant or oppose their locus standi; and they certainly did not wish to deprive them by any chicane or underhanded proceeding of any locus standi to which they were entitled. If they found that the provisions of the present law were not enough to prevent negligence on the part of the Company, which the House must understand he disputed —he did not admit negligence; and he went further and said that the existing law ought to be strong enough to prevent it taking place. But even assuming that the present law -was not strong enough, nothing could prevent them endeavouring to persuade Parliament to do what it could to prevent anything of the kind occurring; and he could assure his hon. Friend that the Company would do nothing to deprive his Friends of any right of action which belonged to them.

*MR. C. T. GILES (Cambridge, Wisbech)

wished to advance one or two arguments in favour of the Company being allowed to increase the quantity of water taken by them, at least for a short time. He had no reason whatever to be in favour of the Company; on the contrary, he lived in the district supplied by them. In 1884 he opposed the Company in Parliament on behalf of the inhabitants of his district, and got the very best terms for them he could; but even in 1884 it was clearly proved that the amount of water taken from the Thames was considerably in excess of their legal quantity. They were then taking considerably more than 24½ million gallons. At the present time the water they received in the district was not sufficient for a proper supply, and it would put them to the greatest inconvenience if the injunction were put in force, and the Company were compelled not to take more than their proper legal quantity. He had no doubt that for years past they had been taking 40 million gallons a day; and it was of the highest importance to the districts they served that the amount should not be lessened. He thought if the Committee would take that as a. fact from the people who lived in the district, they would put no difficulty in the way, at any rate, of a temporary Measure, so that the inhabitants of the district might be properly supplied during the next two years.


said he thought the right hon. Gentleman behind him had met the opponents of the Bill in language which was certainly not unconciliatory. He understood him to express the hope that the position of the opponents of the Measure would not be prejudiced on any future occasion, and he hoped that what he had said would be a means of leading to a settlement of the question. With regard to the Motion before the House, it was made, as he understood from the hon. Member who had moved it, on the ground that permanent powers ought not to be given to this Company when a Royal Commission was sitting on the general question. But that was not the whole case. If there was nothing more to add, he thought there would be little or no difference of opinion. But that was not by any means the whole of the case. The other side of the case had been stated with simple force by his hon. Friend the Member for Brentford, and by the hon. Baronet the Member for Uxbridge. What the hon. Baronet had told them, in perfectly plain and clear language, was that unless the question was settled on the present occasion, in a temporary manner at all events, the Thames Conservancy were determined to put in force, when the time expired, the injunction they had obtained. The result would unquestionably be to produce the danger of an important part of London having a deficient supply of water. He did not know what the House felt on that point. He confessed that he did not envy the position of the inhabitants of the Vauxhall district, if they found themselves next summer, with a temperature, perhaps, like the present, running short of water, and in danger of a water famine in consequence of a refusal to pass this Bill. He did not know whether the House was prepared to take that responsibility, but, certainly, after the unfortunate experience they had had in the past, he for one dared not take the responsibility; and he should feel himself bound, as President of the Local Government Board, if the Motion for the recommittal of the Bill were pressed to a Division to vote against it. He thought the facts and the present position had been sufficiently stated. The hon. Member for Brentford asked them to do justice to the county of Middlesex. They all wished to do justice to the county of Middlesex, he was sure, and he hoped that county was not likely to be done any injustice to. This was purely a temporary Bill, nothing was permanently fixed, and there would be every opportunity, as far as he could judge, for all the conflicting parties being heard. But, as he had already stated, if the Motion were passed —as he hoped it would not be—he should feel bound to vote against it.


said that after the way in which the case of the opponents to the Bill had been received by the House, after the statement of the President of the Local Government Board that the Bill, which he desired to go on, was purely a temporary Bill, and after the statement made by the Chairman of the Committee, that their unanimous intention undoubtedly was that the status quo should be maintained—with one exception, namely, that the taking of the excess of water should be legal up to a limited time—after that statement, which involved everything he was seeking for and included what he was perfectly prepared to grant, he should not press his Motion to a Division. Ho wished, however, to be absolutely guarded against being involved in anything else than the simple legislation up to a limited time of what the Company were at present doing; and that being so, ho could leave the arguments with respect to individual classes for another place, where he felt sure their case would be in no sense prejudiced by what had occurred here. He should therefore, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn; Bill ordered to he reported for Third Reading.