HC Deb 23 June 1898 vol 59 cc1186-204

Amendment proposed— Add the following clause:— (1) If the company fail to provide and keep such a supply of pure and wholesome water as is required by section 35 of the Waterworks Clauses Act, 1847, they shall, unless prevented by frost, unusual drought, or other unavoidable cause or accident, be liable for the first offence to a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds, and to a penalty not exceeding five pounds for every day on which the offence is continued after conviction. (2) Any offence under this section may be prosecuted by any local authority acting in the execution of the Public Health Acts in any part of whoso district the company supply water for domestic purposes, or by any person supplied by the company with water for domestic purposes."—(Mr. Chaplin.)

Motion made for Second Reading.


In moving the Motion which stands in my name, I desire in the first place to say that various representations have been made to me since these clauses were placed upon the Paper, to the effect that in certain quarters objection had been taken to them mainly on two grounds: firstly, as to the matter and effect of the clauses inserted, and, secondly, as to the time and method of their introduction. I think, under these circumstances, it may be well, therefore, that I should explain, in the first place, how it is that these clauses are being introduced and pressed on behalf of the Local Government Board at the present time, and then I will deal with the clauses themselves, and the objects which we seek to accomplish in moving them. The House will recollect the terrible disaster which occurred at Maidstone in the early part of last year in connection with the water supply, but unfortunately in this respect Maid-stone does not stand alone. There have been similar troubles at Lynn, Cam-borne, and other places from which we have had complaints, and the time has come when, in the opinion of the Local Government Board, some action was desirable upon the matter. Accordingly we addressed from the offices of the Local Government Board two circulars to all the different local authorities throughout the country, the first inquiring by whom their water was supplied, whether by local authorities or by public water companies, and the second impressing upon them the necessity of seeing that their supplies were pure and wholesome, and urging the responsibility which rested upon them in the matter. We did this early in the year, and meantime various Water Bills were delivered and received by us, in several of which, but not in all of which, new clauses were introduced for the purpose of preventing pollution of the sources of supply. In connection with these Bills I may remind the House that the practice of the Board for many years has been to make Reports to the various Committees, to whom they are submitted on all the different Bills which are brought before them, and the Standing Orders of both Houses of Parliament provide that these Reports shall be considered by the Committees, and also that the House shall be advised by those Committees as to the course which the Committees propose to take upon these Reports which they receive from the Local Government Board. In all these cases which we are discussing this afternoon the new clauses generally were for the purpose of obtaining further powers of preventing pollution of the sources of supply, but the clauses differed in many respects, and in some cases were open to objection; and although we agree generally with the objects in view, we had to consider whether and what alternative proposals could be made in this respect—proposals which would be suitable for all the different Bills which were before Parliament. But, apart altogether from the proposals contained in the Bills, we have had complaints in certain cases of the quality of the water which is at present being supplied by various local water authorities, and the views of the Department generally, both with reference to the supply of pure and wholesome water and also with respect to the means of preventing pollution, were embodied in the Reports which were sent to the Committees many months ago. Some of the Bills were dealt with by Committees in the Commons, others in the Lords, and the Committees of the Commons so far accepted the Board's Reports as to omit the clauses to which objection had been taken, and in their Reports to the House they stated that they had not inserted other clauses in the place of them, pending the settlement of general clauses, which should be applicable to all the different Bills. In the Lords the Committees were not appointed until after the Easter Recess, with the express view of affording time for the settlement of the general clauses, and clauses of that character accordingly were prepared by the counsel to the Chairman of Committees. They were subsequently considered by the Chairmen of Committees in both Houses of Parliament, and the principle of the clauses was agreed to. Subsequently to this the Parliamentary agents for all the different Bills were invited by the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords to consider them, and I am permitted to say that he had hoped that clauses would have been framed in which there would have been a general concurrence on the part of the promoters of the Bills, but when he found there was some considerable difference of opinion as to the clauses in their then shape, he felt that he could not of his own motion require the introduction of the clauses, on the ground that it would be alleged that at that time sufficient notice had not been given, and that the question was one of general importance, and not limited to the particular authorities promoting these particular Bills. Both he and the Chairman of Ways and Means, however, in this House agreed to the clauses being proceeded with, provided the Local Government Board gave notice of them before the Whitsuntide Recess, and this accordingly was done. Since that time, I may add, the clauses have been considerably modified, so as to meet as far as possible the objections which had been taken to them in various quarters as originally drafted, and in which we hope, and in which we have reason to believe, we have to a considerable extent succeeded. Now, these are the circumstances, as briefly as I can recapitulate them, under which I am asking leave to introduce these clauses at the present time. Having said that, with the permission of the House I will turn to the consideration of the nature and merits of the clauses themselves. At the commencement of my observations I reminded the House of great disasters which had occurred at Maidstone and elsewhere. In reference to Maidstone in particular, it is very difficult to exaggerate the gravity and the importance of the circumstances which arose at that time, and the object which I have had in view has been to take further precautions which, as far as possible, may be effective in preventing the recurrence of similar disasters in the future in other parts of the country. For this purpose, it seems to us, two conditions are essential: in the first place the consumer must be protected against any shortcomings and neglect of duty on the part of the water authority, and, secondly, these authorities themselves must be invested with sufficient powers to protect themselves from pollution of the sources of supply from which they draw the water, which they in turn hand to the consumer. There is a third point I must refer to, which appears somehow or other to have been overlooked in existing legislation, as to the obligation of the different water companies to provide a pure and wholesome supply of water, and that is this: that the failure to fulfil existing obligations to provide a pure and wholesome supply of water is to be liable to a definite penalty. This is not in existence at present, but it is one which we provide for in the first clause on the Paper which has been circulated this morning. With regard to the other two points, we endeavour to protect the consumer from any failure of duty on the part of the water authority as follows: in the first place, we empower the medical officer of health, or any officer authorised by the local authority, on producing the certificate of his authority, to enter the premises of the water authority and the corporation supplying water, and to take samples of the water supplied. That is the first thing we do, and the second is this: that, on certain conditions, we enable any water consumer to take the same course. It has been represented to me, however, from various quarters that to give an indiscriminate power of entry to any water consumer throughout the country might, and probably would, be to entail very great and needless annoyance on the water authorities, and I am bound to say, on further reflection, that I think there is much weight in these objections. We, therefore, attach to the power of entry in the case of every consumer the following conditions: we require him, as a preliminary condition, to obtain from a justice of the peace exercising jurisdiction in the district an order authorising him to enter upon the premises and take samples, but the justice is not to grant this order—and I beg the House to observe this, and especially the representatives of the water authorities in this House—unless the consumer has given reasonable notice to the water authority stating when and where he means to make his application for the order; and, secondly, he shows before the justice a full and reasonable cause for making his application. In addition to this, supposing the order is granted, he is required to give not less than six hours' notice of when, and where he proposes to take the samples. By these conditions we think, if they are adequately fulfilled, the water authority will be protected against vexatious action and needless annoyance on the part of any consumer.

MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton)

I should like to ask whether the consumer will be able to take a sample from his own supply in his own house?


Of course he can take a sample of the supply in his own house. I am now pointing out the conditions under which he can take samples from the premises of the Water Company.


I understood the right honourable Gentleman to be speaking—


Then the honourable Member understood me wrong. I was dealing with conditions attached to taking samples from the premises of the water authorities. There remains the case of the water authorities themselves which require protection from the pollution of their sources of supply, and it is proposed to give to the officers of the water authority or the medical officer of the local authority power to enter on lands or premises from which water is supplied, and in the words of the clause they are empowered— to take and carry away samples of any water, or of any matter, substance, or liquid which may appear likely to cause pollution to the water of the company or the sources of supply whereby such water may be fouled, and if the right or entry is obstructed or refused then a justice in the district after notice and reasonable cause may require admission by order. On this point again it has been represented to me that the rights of the owners of property and of land may be in danger. That is a matter which has received my careful consideration, and we have endeavoured to provide for it, and I think we have successfully provided for it in this way. The right of entry may be obstructed or it may be refused. But if that is the case, then the justices in the district can be ap- pealed to, and after reasonable notice and reasonable cause has been shown, he may be empowered to require their admission by giving an order for that purpose. Those, Sir, are the general provisions of the clause by which we hope that it will be possible to make a better provision for the supply of pure and wholesome water in districts throughout the country in the future. Of course I am aware that some objections have been taken to these proposals, and the chief of them are these: It is said in some quarters that the clauses are unnecessary altogether, and that if they are necessary then they should be embodied in a public and not in a private Bill. Another objection urged against them is to this effect: The powers given to the consumer ought to be eliminated entirely from the clauses. Further, it is said that the clauses ought not to apply in any case to corporations. One of my correspondents, agreeing with the cheer of the honourable Member behind me, expressed the opinion that while the clauses were undoubtedly admirably adapted to all water companies, they certainly ought not, under any circumstances, to apply to corporations like his own. Now, I frankly admit that the position of corporations which only supply their own constituents is altogether different from that of water companies; but then they are in a very small minority, and as the great majority of corporations supply others as well as themselves, I have not been able to perceive any valid reason in the interests of a supply of pure and wholesome water where that is the case why these clauses should not equally apply to them. With regard to the elimination of the consumer, those who maintain that that ought to be done have apparently forgotten the course we adopted last year in the Bill of last Session dealing with the London Water Companies. Not only did we give to the consumer power to make complaints and take the water companies before the new tribunal, but we empowered the local authorities to come to his aid and assistance, if called upon to do so, and if so called upon they were empowered to assist with funds derived from the rates. And as to the idea that these clauses should be introduced in a public and not in a private Bill, I may say that it would have been quite impossible for me during this Session, considering the pressure of business, to introduce a Bill dealing with the whole of the question. On the other hand, the House will remember that there are no less than some 21 different Bills dealing with the water question, affecting the health of millions of people, during the present Session, and in view of the disasters which have recently occurred, and to which I have referred, I have been most anxious not to allow the present Session to pass without making some effort, at all events, to effect some improvements in the present condition of affairs. Such an opportunity is offered, in my judgment, at the present time. It is a question directly affecting the public health; it cannot be denied, I think, in any quarter that there is room, and indeed necessity, for some reform in this matter. I believe there is absolutely nothing in these clauses in their present form to which any solid or reasonable objection can, I think, be taken, and if experience should show that revision is required, of course these clauses will be open to revision in the future. I can only say in conclusion that I hope the House, having heard the general statement which I have made upon the main points which I consider to be now under consideration, will support me in moving the modern, but at the same time, as I believe them to be, the useful and highly beneficial proposals which are contained in the clause, which I beg leave now formally to move.

* MR. MELLOR (Yorks., W.R., Sowerby)

The right honourable Gentleman has very clearly stated the substance of the proposed clauses. Those clauses are in themselves drastic, and for anything I know, they may be necessary. But I am not going to criticise these clauses in detail, because the objection that I have to them is one of a totally different character. There are two kinds of legislation which are sometimes attempted in this House, both of which, in my view, ought not to be permitted. The first is the attempt to repeal a public Act, or part of a public Act, by putting provisions into a private Bill, and the other is to alter the general law of the land by inserting provisions in a private Bill at a stage when the persons who might object to those provisions have not the opportunity of coming before a Committee of this House, and of having those provisions thoroughly examined. But whether they are examined or not, the first objection I take is this—that this is a remarkable attempt to alter the general law of the land by inserting provisions on Report into a Private Bill; I submit to the House that, however hard the case may be, such attempts make bad legislation, and I hope that this House will not agree to the course proposed to be taken by the right honourable Gentleman. This is no mere technicality, it is a matter of real importance. I will take first the case I mentioned just now, of attempting to repeal some public Statute by means of a private Bill. If it succeeds, what will be the consequence? For one thing, it will produce general uncertainty in the law, because private Bills are kept in what I may call a roll of this House, and it is very difficult sometimes to find a private Bill. There is no index to show what they contain, and if you have to search through all the private Bills in this House in order to see whether a clause in a public Statute is repealed, then I say that that is a labour which no one ought to be called upon to undertake. This would be, in my opinion, a bad course to adopt, because matters are easily inserted in a private Bill which are not looked at so closely as they would be if they were placed in a public Bill. The right honourable Gentleman says that it would be very difficult to carry a public Bill, considering the congested state of the work of the House. I daresay that may be so—I do not know—I cannot tell. The right honourable Gentleman knows that better than I do; I should have thought that with a majority of over 140 they might have got through a simple Bill embodying something in the nature of these clauses. Why not? Why should not the right honourable Gentleman take that course? He says there is no time. Why did not the Government, then, begin earlier? Surely it is not an unreasonable thing to say that with all the time at their disposal they might have brought in some Bill which would have contained something of the clauses he now proposed, and so produced a satisfactory Bill. But the Government has not troubled to do that. But there is something far more than that. The rule of this House with regard to the private Bill is that they should go before a Committee and be thoroughly examined. That Committee has power to hear witnesses and to inquire into all the details of the various schemes. Upon that view of the question I would point out that it is now proposed to refer all Scotch private business to a local inquiry, in order to obtain a more full and searching inquiry into the substance and clauses of these Bills. What has happened in the cases of these Bills we are now discussing? The right honourable Gentleman says that his Department sent a Report, as no doubt it was the duty of the Department to do, to the Committees that were to consider these Bills. But I would ask: Have these Committees adopted that Report? If they have, why have they inserted no provision in these Bills in order to carry out the recommendations contained in that Report, or anything of the kind? Under these circumstances we are driven to the conclusion that either these clauses have not been examined by the Committees at all, or else they have examined them, and after examination have rejected them. To-day we are on the Report stage of these Bills. New clauses proposed in public Bills at the Report stage require some consideration, but when you come upon the Report stage of a private Bill, not only to give the go-by to what the Committees have done, but to insert in a private Bill clauses altering the public law, then I submit that that is bad legislation, and, if these clauses are necessary, they ought unquestionably to be embodied in a public Bill, and not in a private Bill. The right honourable Gentleman says that these clauses are necessary. If so, why not insert them in a public Bill? I am sure that Members of this House would throw no impediment in the way of such a public Bill; on the contrary, if the right honourable Gentleman thought that these clauses ought to be accepted by the House, I am perfectly certain that every assistance would be rendered to him in passing them if he embodied them in a public Bill of a satisfactory nature. But that is quite a different thing to asking the House, at the last moment, after the Bills have passed through Committee, and upon the Report stage, to accept the introduction of new clauses. I sincerely hope that the House will not agree to that. There is another point. These clauses go beyond the notice which was originally given to the promoters of these Bills. That is rather a serious matter, because, as the clauses have gone beyond the scope of the notice, the people who have promoted these Bills have gone to the Committees only prepared to inquire into the actual scope contained in the notices. The Bills have passed the Committees without these clauses the promoters have now no longer any opportunity of altering these clauses before the Committees, and when the promoters are no longer in condition to make a proper and fair investigation, it seems hard that these clauses should be attempted to be inserted by the Government, and that the promoters should be placed in a position in which all the older water companies, in existence have not been placed. If these provisions are good and necessary for these companies, then they are good and necessary for all, and the one reason why I suggest to the House that it is most desirable that there should be a public Bill of this kind is that, if these clauses are approved of, they ought to be applicable to the whole water legislation of the country. That is what we ought to do. At the present time it cannot be done, because these clauses, according to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, are only necessary for water Bills of the future. I must confess that to introduce legislation of a public nature into the private Bills of this House is a somewhat dangerous course. For these reasons I hope that the House will not agree to these clauses. I cannot help expressing my regret that the right honourable Gentleman has taken this course in the matter, and I hope that he will come to the conclusion that it will be far better to withdraw these clauses now, and, if they are necessary in the public interest, to insert them in a public Bill.

MR. CORNWALLIS (Maidstone)

As my constituency is the unfortunate constituency which has been referred to in this Debate, I think I may be allowed, perhaps, to offer a few observations upon a subject of such importance and interest to my constituents and myself. We are extremely grateful to the right honourable Gentleman for the clauses he has brought forward, but we do not think that they go far enough. We believe that there can be no adequate protection to consumers unless there is a constant and regular analysis taken by some authority or another, and we think that the proper authority for the purpose is the water company. Referring to what has been said by the right honourable Gentleman on the other side of the House, I may say that I am at one with him in thinking that these matters ought to be dealt with by a public Bill, so that adequate protection shall be given to every water consumer throughout the country. I feel that I am entitled to say this, because we have suffered very grievously indeed through the pollution of our water supply, and in my district we feel most strongly that we shall not have adequate protection unless we have constant and regular analyses taken by an official of the water authority, which analyses shall be open to public inspection.

* SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

The question really before us is whether there is any reason for departing from what ought to be, I think, the action of the House upon this class of question. There is no proverb, I think, more true than this, that "Hard cases make bad laws," and because there has been in one district a great outburst of fever, and because there was something wrong with the water supply, the right honourable Gentleman, with the best possible intentions (and good intentions make a very doubtful permanent way), comes down to this House to try to cure the state of things in one district, or in two or three districts, by introducing special clauses into the 20 or 21 water Bills of this Session, whilst the great mass of the water supply of the country is left entirely untouched. I have been trying to find out whether these clauses were discussed in Committee or not. I believe that they were not discussed at all in Committee—that is what I am informed. I am open to correction, because it is difficult on occasions like this to discover where these clauses have come from. But I cannot help thinking that if we allow the general Statute law to be altered in every case by inserting clauses to meet the exigencies of some particular private Bill, we shall get our legislation into a troubled and chaotic state. I have had almost as much experience as any Member of the House of water Bills, and, so far as I can recollect, in almost every case the public law—that is the present existing law—gives enormous power to the local authorities to deal with these questions. If these powers are not sufficient to keep bad water away from the towns and communities, by all means let us have a general law, not a special and individual law of this character. The powers granted here to the individual consumers are granted with a very lavish hand. They allow, on the order of the magistrates, any consumer or consumers to go into a place where the water is gathered, and have a public inspection of the source of the supply. But the question of the quality of the water, which this Bill endeavours to deal with, is not found by looking at the source of the supply. That has to be found in a very different manner.


The only question now before the House is the first clause, but I have assumed that the House would wish that the discussion on the first clause should be a general discussion upon all the clauses.


If these clauses were right in themselves, they should be, and ought to be, incorporated in a public Bill applicable to all water works. My right honourable Friend says that in this clause all the corporations are to be included. I am not sure whether any of these Bills are corporation Bills, but the large corporations, such as Glasgow, Liverpool, and so on, which have had powers granted to them in the last few years, will not be included in these clauses. So that these enormous communities would not share in any of the advantages which may arise from these clauses, and would not receive any of the protection afforded by these clauses—that would be the case in 99 towns out of 100. I object to the principle of adding in the Report stage of private Bills, clauses which were not contemplated in their original development on the plea that here or there there is an outbreak of fever, and that, therefore, there must be a special clause attached to it. If that argument holds good at all, then the whole community should be protected from the possibility of an outbreak by universal legislation. I really hope that my right honourable Friend will not persevere with other clauses of this character. The sole question is whether, if the time is ripe for such legislation, we had better not have a short Bill which can be made applicable everywhere, and afford protection to water consumers all over the country.

* SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)

I should like to say one or two words with regard to these clauses, because I am in a difficulty. In the first place, I long represented a district of Kent in which county this grievous outbreak occurred, and in the second place, I happen to be a director of the Kent Water Company. I have always been, uncomfortable when water questions came before this House, and on this occasion I say at once that if these clauses go to a Division, I shall not oppose them. I have, however, risen in order to put pressure upon my right honourable Friend to relieve himself, and the Government, and the House of a difficulty. It is perfectly obvious to all what has happened. In the town of Maidstone a most fearful outbreak occurred which ravaged the town like a scourge. I believe I am not wrong in saying that that outbreak has put back the trade of the town for many years. Is it not natural and obvious that when water legislation takes place in other portions of Kent, the local authorities should appeal to the Local Government Board to protect them from a like scourge? The Department has been subjected to great pressure not to wait to give this protection by means of a public Bill, but immediately, and at once, to relieve them from the possibility of a like scourge by adding clauses of this kind to private Bills. To my mind that is the whole question; and the right honourable Gentleman has submitted to this pressure, and has said that whenever he can lay his hands upon a Measure dealing with water, he will put in clauses which will absolutely protect the consumer. Then what does the right honourable Gentleman propose to do? I am connected with water companies, and I have no objection, so far as these clauses are concerned. We are glad to advertise our water, and the more its source of supply is investigated the better. Therefore, I do not think that so far as the clauses are concerned there can be much objection on the part of the water companies. Nevertheless, grievous mischief can be done by the passing of these clauses as proposed. There will be a gross unfairness, to my mind, if we once allow the Government to adopt the practice of inserting in private Bills, and by a side wind, as it were, important public legislation of this kind, and it will be a bad precedent. A public remedy should be secured by a public Act. Besides, clauses of such a character as these should have been brought before the Committee who had to consider this question, so that those who were spending large sums of money in promoting these Bills should have had an opportunity of properly considering them. Either that should have been done or these clauses should have been incorporated in a public Measure. I earnestly appeal to my right honourable Friend, not from any miserable, paltry grounds of my happening to be connected with a water company, but on the broader and better issue to consider the matter, and it will be far better to bring in next Session a public Act dealing with the matter comprehensively, and to withdraw these proposals this afternoon, which not only cast a slur on our private Bill legislation, but will ultimately place that private Bill legislation in a mass of entanglements and difficulties.

MR. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I do not propose to enter upon the discussion of the principle of these clauses, which has been so ably dealt with. I just want to say that I for one am glad that the right honourable Gentleman has brought this matter forward, but I think it is perfectly obvious what the feeling of the House is, and that the Government will be well advised in withdrawing these clauses. Still, I think that the speeches have shown that the House itself is fully cognisant as to the necessity for some action being taken by the Local Government Board in order to ensure greater purity and wholesomeness of water, especially, perhaps, among the smaller companies; and, therefore, it will be a very distinct encouragement to the right honourable Gentleman and the Government to introduce a Bill during next Session; and I think that the House has practically pledged itself to give the Bill their sanction. Under these circumstances, I do not wish to detain the House by arguing the matter, but I only hope that this discussion may result in the production of a public Bill at an early date, giving all local authorities these very necessary powers.

* MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

As my right honourable Friend, in moving these clauses, referred to the action which I have taken, I think it is only right that I should tell the House frankly what has taken place, so far as I am concerned. At the beginning of the Session there were several Reports from the Local Government Board dealing with this question. Some of the Bills were unopposed Bills, and came before the Unopposed Bills Committee. I was then brought face to face with the Report of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and then, bearing in mind the terrible state of things which had existed in Maidstone, and other districts, which has been referred to by my right honourable Friend the Member for Dartford, I thought the House would take some action upon the lines indicated by the President of the Local Government Board. I am not sure that it would not have been possible for me to have drafted clauses myself, and to have inserted them in these unopposed Bills, and have taken the responsibility for them, but I felt that that would be rather a serious responsibility to take upon my shoulders, and that I ought not to do so without having the assent of the House in so doing. I was, therefore, careful to warn all the promoters of these different Bills, at the beginning of the Session, that it was very probable that clauses of the nature of those which are before the House would be inserted in their Bills. The Chairmen also of the Committees, before whom the opposed water Bills came, took the same action as I did. They warned the promoters of these Bills that, although the clauses were not at that time ready for insertion, because the draft had not been completed, something of this kind would be introduced this Session, and therefore, whatever objection may be taken to these clauses, it cannot now be said that they are sprung upon the promoters of these Bills. They were fully aware of what was likely to happen several months ago. A discussion took place between the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords and myself, and the President of the Local Government Board, and these clauses were very carefully considered. If I have any objections to them at all, it is that I think they do not go quite far enough to please me. They were carefully considered with a view to meeting the wishes and views of all parties, and if any blame is to be attached to anybody for having asked the House to insert these clauses at the present time in these water Bills, I am quite prepared to take my full share. I did think, and still think, that in the pressure of public business this Session it would be really quite impossible for the right honourable Gentleman to propose a Bill amending the Waterworks Clauses Act, and introducing not only these clauses, but other clauses. I thought it only right, in the interests of the public health of the country, that clauses somewhat of this nature should be introduced into whatever water Bills came before the House this Session; and I confess that it did not seem to me to be a very serious responsibility to place upon a water company to ask them to supply pure and wholesome water, because, after all, that is what the water companies exist for. It really does not seem to be asking too much to ask them to supply that for the supply of which they exist. With regard to the subjects which the clauses deal with, one is to protect the water consumer, and the other is to assist the water company to find out where the pollution comes from. I see, as my right honourable Friend opposite has pointed out, that the view of the House is that this matter should be dealt with in a public Bill, and therefore, under those circumstances, I cannot take upon myself the responsibility of urging my right honourable Friend to press the clauses upon the House now.


If I may be allowed by the indulgence of the House I should like to say that when I moved these clauses I was certainly not prepared for the reception which greeted them, and which reception was quite unmistakable. I quite understand, so far as I can collect from the various speakers who have taken part in the discussion, that the objection which is taken is not to the clauses or to the proposals, but is founded upon this principle, that where a grave and important question such as this is to be dealt with it ought to be dealt with in a public Bill rather than in a private Bill. Knowing, perhaps, more of the circumstances than most of the Members of the House, I own that I have been very anxious to endeavour to deal, even if only partially, with this question during the present Session. At the same time, I quite recognise that the general sense of the House upon this subject is quite unmistakable, and I should be committing a very serious error of judgment, if I were not guilty of something worse, if I endeavoured to press my proposals against that general sense, which has evinced itself in so marked a manner. Under the circumstances I believe I shall best fulfil my duty to the nation and to the House if I ask the House to permit me to withdraw the clause.

* MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I am not surprised at the action taken by my right honourable Friend the President of the Local Government Board, but I think that the House has been moved by something like what I must call a spirit of pedantry. If my right honourable Friend had been proposing his clauses to-day as part of a public Bill no objection could be raised to them. It is not suggested that any solid argument has been used against the principles of these proposals. Objection is taken to them that they do not apply to all companies, but to certain companies which have come to this House this Session for increased powers. It is argued that, though it may be proper to discuss the question of these clauses if they were part of a public Bill, yet because they are proposed to be inserted in Bills of private companies, who are asking for further powers, it must not be done, because they introduce new legislation, and because they have not been considered by Committees upstairs. With respect to the objection that to pass these clauses would be a derogation of the Standing Orders, let me point out, speaking with all respect, that the House is in danger if it adopts that view of being deceived by a similarity of form. Our Standing Orders are for the purpose of protecting persons who are to be affected by private Bills, proposed to be introduced, not for the purpose of protecting the promoters; and when a company brings in a Bill here and the House, for the protection of the public, inserts some provision which may affect the interests of the promoters, the promoters cannot say that they have been deceived. Cases might be pointed out—railway Bills, dock Bills, and what not—into which, against the wishes of the promoters, there have been inserted clauses for the public benefit. Take the clause about the labouring classes. There is no public Bill on the subject, but that is a provision which has been brought in, against the wishes of promoters of Bills, for the protection of working men, so many times that it has become of common form to insert it now in all cases where the houses of the working classes are required for public purposes. That great public benefit has not been done by public legislation, it has grown up in private Bills. We have to gradually educate the public in these matters, and one of the best means of doing so is by the introduction gradually of experimental proposals. I assent entirely to the wisdom and prudence of the conduct of my right honourable Friend in withdrawing these Bills, but I could not see what has happened, especially after the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means, without rising to say that I think the House has acted with rather too mechanical a regard for precedent, and I think it would have been well to allow my right honourable Friend to proceed with this very useful legislation.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill ordered to be read the third time.