HC Deb 24 May 1897 vol 49 cc1149-51

in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law respecting the Metropolitan Water Companies, explained that it was brought forward in fulfilment of an undertaking which he gave earlier in the Session. As the House was aware, the chief subject of controversy which surrounded the question of the London water supply had already been referred for inquiry to a Royal Commission. Pending the result of that inquiry it had been urged upon them, and the Government were of that opinion themselves that, something might be done with advantage to strengthen the position of the water consumer. The water consumer in the metropolis was often placed in a position of great disadvantage when he found himself in conflict with the water companies. At present, when the consumer found himself aggrieved his course was to go to the magistrates in some cases and to the Local Government Board in others. In applying to the Local Government Board he must be supported by 20 resident householders, and sometimes, owing to technical objections, their applications were found to be invalid. The present means of redress entailed upon each individual consumer great trouble and very often expenses they were quite unwilling to pay. That being so, what the Government proposed was not to alter, but add to the existing law. They proposed to do it in this way. They left the water consumers of the metropolis all the rights and remedies they possessed at present; they created an additional tribunal before which their complaints could be made, and called in the local authorities to aid and assist them. At present the complaints had to be initiated by the consumer; but under the Bill the local authorities would also be empowered to take the initiative, and the tribunal which was to hear their complaints would be, the Railway and Canal Commission. They had chosen that tribunal for two reasons—first, because it was not too much overburdened with work at the present time; and, secondly, because it seamed to be very undesirable to create an entirely new tribunal for the purpose of giving effect to what must be after all only a temporary Measure until the Royal Commission had reported. The Bill was a very short one; it was also a simple and a modest Measure. The new powers and duties, however, which they were conferring on the local authorities must not be underrated, they were very considerable, and he was in great hopes that this proposal would be found to be an adequate fulfilment of the undertaking which he gave at an earlier period of the Session. [Cheers.]

*SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said that last year the Committee over which he had had the honour to preside on the London Water Bills passed unanimously a Report calling the attention of the House to the state of affairs which existed at present, than which, perhaps, nothing could be worse for so densely crowded a population as London. He was afraid the Bill which his right hon. Friend proposed to introduce was no remedy, and that palliatives of this character would only add to the evils which already existed. The local authority was not placed in a position to deal with the water companies or the water supply as in many towns. He thought the House must face before very long the grave difficulties which arose from the present position of affairs. If this great city, which was so constantly increasing in population, was to be kept thoroughly well supplied with water, there must be some principle laid down for handing to the local authority the supply, or giving to the water companies, under charge of Parliament, not merely regulations as regarded disputes, but general regulations which ought to apply to all the companies supplying London on a more extensive scale than that which was now proposed. ["Hear, hear!"]

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Ritchie, and Mr. T. W. Russell; presented accordingly, and Read the First time; to be Read a Second time upon Monday next, and to be printed—[Bill 267.]