HC Deb 08 March 1898 vol 54 cc948-54

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Uxbridge Division of Middlesex means to move the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not wish to interpose between him and the House if he means to do so. I do not intend to move the rejection of the Second Reading myself, I may say, but I cannot allow the Bill to pass at this stage without calling attention to one or two points, which the House ought to be put in possession of. In the first place, this Bill is introduced, as I understand, really—


On the point of order, I might just say that, after what has taken place in the House, it is not my intention to move the rejection of the Second Reading, but I certainly propose, with your leave, Mr. Speaker, to move the Instruction; and, therefore, I raise the question whether the whole Debate be taken on the Instruction, or partly now and partly at that time. I put it to my hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart) whether it would not be well to take it all at that time?


I am in the hands of the House and yourself, Mr. Speaker, as to the way it would be best to deal with this matter. I wish to deal generally with the situation in question, and if I can deal with that sufficiently on the Instruction, for the convenience of the House, I should do so; otherwise, I should make the few remarks I have to make at the present moment; but I do not intend to move the rejection of the Bill.


It would be a pity to have two Debates on the same point. As far as I can gather from the Instruction, it seems to raise an objection to too much water being taken from the river. If that is the same objection that the hon. Member wishes to allude to, it seems to me that the Debate had better be taken on the Instruction. If the hon. Member has other points to bring before the House, he can, of course, raise them now on the Second Reading.


That is, Sir, the reason why I rise at the present moment, because I believe the few remarks I have to make would probably be out of order, upon the simple and definite wording of the Instruction. I am not about to move the rejection of this Bill on the Second Reading, inasmuch, as the Bill is introduced into this House in virtue of a clause in the Bill of last year, which practically obliged the company in question to introduce some Bill or other this year. Now, though I entirely disapprove of the Bill which has been introduced, yet I think that, having regard to the position of the Bill and of the clause in the previous Bill, it is more respectful to the House that I should not endeavour to deal with the Bill so as to reject it on the present occasion, but should allow it to go before a Committee, so far as I am concerned, in which Committee the whole question of the Bill will, I hope, be fully investigated. But, Sir, I must say, at this stage, that I reserve to myself the right of opposing this Bill, when it comes back from the Committee, upon certain general points, which I feel the House itself is probably as fit, if not more fit, to deal with than a Committee. But, Sir, let me just remind the House of the circumstances in which this Bill is brought in. There was a Bill brought in last year, which finally passed through this House, giving a limited period to the company to draw the extra quantity of water, which they had arranged with the Thames Conservancy to draw from the Thames for a period, I believe, of, roughly speaking, a couple of years. Now, Sir, I negotiated with the company, and offered to them this: that, seeing that the whole question of the future control and conduct of the water supply of London was in the melting-pot, the simplest and best way to deal with this difficulty in which the Southwark and Vauxhall Company find themselves would be that a Bill—which I then suggested might be for five years—should be passed, which would give the company full power to continue to do what it was at present doing, without being hindered by any injunction, and that in the meantime we should have an opportunity of knowing how the Water Question of London was to be settled, and whether general and continuous powers ought to be given to the company or not. Now, Sir, a modification of that suggestion was adopted, and a couple of years were granted to the company—not quite in the form which I suggested, certainly, to the House—and with the obligation of bringing in this Bill, which I then suggested, as being about to be brought in at too early a period. But there was in the House at that time a very confident hope that something was to be done by the Government with respect to the settlement of the London Water Question, which would have become operative by the present time, or, at any rate, the character of whose operation we would be able to form some conception of at the present time. There was also the promise of a Bill, to be introduced by the Government at that time, which should deal, to some extent, with the London Water Question—a Bill which, of course, is now turned into an Act, and which, the House will remember, dealt only with one or two outlying portions of the Water Question, not affecting the position or condition of this company, or of its future, or, indeed, of the future of any of the water companies. Sir, the Bills which I had the honour of bringing in with respect to the purchase of the water companies were thrown out largely upon the understanding, which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (the Hon. Lionel R. Holland) and the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East (Mr. Harry H. Marks), that the speedy dealing with the question on a wide basis was to be taken in hand by the Government. What I submit to the House at present is that a Bill giving permanent powers to the company, which now applies to us, would be really in contravention of the spirit, at any rate, of the circumstances under which the Bill of last year was passed, and that the time has not come for the giving them such permanent powers. I hope to have the opportunity of laying, or of there being laid, before the Committee of this House the views that I am now expressing; but I must reserve for myself the right of raising this question again at a subsequent stage of this Bill. I wanted to point out with respect to this Bill, one or two issues of importance. In the first place, we maintain that, taken in conjunction with the Staines Reservoirs Scheme, the scheme of this Bill—if it be carried out—is a scheme which gives the right, under certain restrictions, of drawing permanently about double the quantity of water which they are at present authorised to draw from the Thames to this company, and will practically denude the Thames of water—practically it will denude the River Thames of water. Then, in the second place, I want to point out that the scheme of this Bill, which we now have before us, is incompatible with the scheme laid down by the Royal Commission, which was presided over so ably by Lord Balfour of Burleigh; and I wish to lay before the House the further consideration that, in my opinion—if it be found necessary, pending the settlement of the Water Question, that this company should proceed for further powers of a permanent kind in this matter—we shall endeavour to lay before the Committee, and also before this House, that, as we maintain, if this company finds it necessary, pending that solution, which we are all expecting in some form or other, that this permanent power should be given to it, that there should be included in this Bill some form of purchase clause, whereby some local authority, or some authority, or an authority, should be empowered to purchase on behalf of the public this company. I have pointed out, on more than one occasion, in this House that the delay in dealing with the solution of the Water Question was throwing, if not the obligation, at least the opportunity, upon the water companies—upon this one and that one—of coming to the House and securing such rights and such privileges as should greatly increase their value as going concerns, and greatly increase the price that would have to be paid for them. It is impossible to believe, Sir, that we can give a permanent concession of twice the quantity of water to any company without increasing the value of that company. This very point that I am bringing before the House for a moment was insisted upon by an important hybrid Committee, presided over by the hon. Member for the County of Durham (Sir Joseph Pease), which Committee pointed out the difficulty in which the House was placed on account of this great point that I am bringing before the House just now. I do not wish to detain the House at all at this moment; I do not wish to move the rejection of this Bill at this stage, because of the reasons I have given. It is introduced under a clause of an Act of Parliament, a clause to which I objected at the time, and which I pointed out might lead us into the very difficulty in which we, I believe, stand at this day. But I felt, Sir, that it was desirable, before this Measure proceeds to leave the House and go into Committee, to raise these points before the House, as points upon which I lay great stress, as points which I am prepared to have contended before the Committee, and as points which I believe the House itself will have to be called on finally to decide before this Bill passes from its purview. Sir, the position of the Water Question, which I have just described, in respect of this company, is rendered extremely difficult, I believe, by the delays that have been interposed in respect of a policy of purchase, which I have had the honour of bringing forward in this House. With these few remarks, Sir, I shall not offer any further opposition to the Bill at this stage.


The hon. Member who last spoke and myself are in accord in not opposing this Bill, but we agree in nothing else. I certainly do not agree with his arguments. The question which he raises is a question of water supply, and whether it shall be supplied by the London County Council or by the water company. The policy of the London County Council is that the water shall not be taken from the Thames, but from other sources. The Thames Conservancy are clear upon this point: that there is enough water in the Thames for the whole population of London for the next 100 years to come, if it is only taken in the proper way. We think the rule laid down by the House is the right rule, and that the supply shall be made from reservoirs. Of course to maintain a sufficient flow of water for navigation is of the greatest importance, and so long as we get that we consider that the water company ought to be allowed to have the water if they lake it under proper terms. The House has recognised that, and has stated that large reservoirs shall be made by this company. We want that extended to other companies, as far as is necessary, so that the people of London should get their water without being under the thumb of the London County Council.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I think the hon. Baronet slightly misunderstood the speech of my hon. Friend. We are not discussing the question of the amount of water which the company should take from the Thames, or whether the company should take any at all. I understood my hon. Friend to enter a protest—with which I cordially agree—namely, that at the present moment the Government, having referred the whole Water Question to a Royal Commission for inquiry, it is not right for any water company to come to this House and ask for permanent powers to take so much water in the future from the Thames, or anywhere else. We wish to enter a protest against this Bill becoming a permanent Act. We do not oppose it as a temporary Measure, for which there may be urgent necessity; our only protest is against it being treated as a permanent Measure, because as such it would distinctly prejudice the position of the Royal Commission.

*MR. C. B. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

I recognise the deference shown by the two hon. Gentlemen opposite to the directions given by Parliament last year. I only wish to say that if the last statement were to pass uncontradicted at this stage it might have an undeservedly injurious effect on the Bill. We shall be prepared at the proper time to prove that the Bill, not only will not denude the Thames of necessary water, but that it will fully carry out the statutory obligations expressly laid down upon the promoters, as well as all the private undertakings given by them.

Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

Put and agreed to.

Read a second time and committed.


I will move my Instruction to the Committee this day week.

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