HC Deb 15 March 1898 vol 54 cc1644-56
*SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)

I rise to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to provide that the point of measurement be at Penton Hook Weir as provided by the Staines Reservoir Act, 1896, and that the minimum flow to be left at that weir be at the rate of 300,000,000 gallons per diem. I have to state that the Instruction which I am proposing to-move is only done as a public duty, because the first obligation imposed by Parliament upon the Thames Conservancy is to regulate the flow of water so that the navigation cannot be interfered with; and, after the navigation has been provided for, Parliament has given to certain water companies certain rights that they may take a certain amount of water, which amount is prescribed by Statute as long as the navigation is not interfered with. This question very naturally and properly has been the constant study of the Conservators of the river Thames, and they have a very highly trained staff whose duty it is to see that this navigation is thoroughly preserved, and they have more power of doing so, and are better able to do it, than any other body, because their attention is always being called to it, and they can do it with an independence and a skill which no other body can apply, and simply for this reason—because they represent public interests and do not represent any commercial body which has as its only object to provide dividends and to make profits for the benefit of their shareholders. Undoubtedly these views of the Conservancy have been recognised by the House of Commons on more than one occasion, and that is the reason why I venture to bring forward this Instruction. The House of Commons has on two occasions affirmed the principle which I am asking them to do again to-day. Two Acts of Parliament have been passed; one was passed in 1896, called the Staines Reservoir Act, and the other was passed last year on behalf of this very Company, who are now asking for different powers from those which they obtained last year. I wish to say that the Conservators naturally look upon Water Companies as their friends, and, as far as possible, they would like them to take as much water as can be properly taken from the river, because they derive a very considerable income from these companies which enables them to carry out the necessary works in the upper river in promoting navigation, which otherwise they would not be able to do. But they feel very strongly that all the Companies should be treated alike, and that one Company should not have any advantages given over all the others. Now this is just what the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company are endeavouring to do under their present Bill—they are asking for an advantage, and I am moving this Instruction so that they shall not obtain that advantage, and I hope that the House will lend me its assistance in order that I may properly perform the duty which I have to perform. I should like to say a few words with regard to the Southwark and Vauxhall Company. The whole of the Water Companies, with the exception of the New River Company (which has only recently come in) draw their water from the river Thames, and they all have power to take a certain amount of water from the river Thames. The amount which the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company can take is 24,500,000 gallons per day. Every one of the other Companies has acted honourably and straightforwardly with reference to these powers, with the exception of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company. Every one of the Companies has acted honestly in not taking more than the amount of water that was given to them by the order of Parliament. But year after year the Southwark and Vauxhall Company not only put the Conservancy to defiance, but they put the House of Commons to defiance—they utterly disregarded the Orders of the House of Commons. The House of Commons had fixed that a certain amount of water should be taken by this Company, but this Company found it a great deal cheaper to take water without buying it than to come to the House of Commons and ask for permission to take more. This I consider was nothing more nor less than stealing the water which belonged to the river and selling it to their customers, and this state of things reached such a pitch that at last, by the orders of the Conservancy, I consulted one of the Departments of the Government and asked what course we ought to take with regard to this Southwark and Vauxhall Company. The answer of that Department was clear—it was that we ought to go to law and stop them doing that which was illegal, because they were putting an Act of Parliament in perfect defiance, and if they were not stopped every other Company might go and do just the same. We went to the Courts, and, eventually, the judges granted an injunction which stopped this Company from doing anything which was illegal. A very singular thing exists with regard to the Staines Reservoir Act. Under that Act there are three separate Companies who carry out the scheme, and they brought it in because they looked at it in this way—they saw that before long they would want to have more water, and they came in an honest way to the House of Commons, and they said— We want more water to perform our obligations, and we ask you to give us this means of getting it. Staines Reservoir Act was passed. But this House does not know that the Southwark and Vauxhall Company was one of those first associated with the other three in the Staines Reservoir Act, and they went out of that partnership because they thought we should not be able to stop them, and that it would be a great deal cheaper to get their water in the way they did than by obtaining it by Act of Parliament in the same way the other Companies did. And now they come to this House, and they ask this House to give them a Bill which is inconsistent with that undertaking which they gave to the Conservators when they introduced their Bill last year, and inconsistent with the pledge upon which they obtained the Conservators' aid to help them to pass it and to withdraw our opposition. They not only do that, but they ask for an advantage over the whole of these other Companies, and particularly over the three who have acted fairly—they want to draw a larger quantity of water than the other three are allowed to do, which quantity of water has been fixed in this House and has become an Act of Parliament. Now, I want to put this very strongly to the House. It is not a question of the supply of water to their customers—to save a water famine—it is simply to make money themselves. It is not a question of water at all to enable them, as stated in their objections to my Instruction, to perform these statutory duties, but it is only a question of the expense of water storage and of reservoirs, and those in reference to this Bill are, in my opinion, not sufficient. The Southwark and Vauxhall Company want more water, and so far as they are concerned the navigation can take care of itself, but the Southwark and Vauxhall Company are to have just as much water as they want, perfectly irrespective of the public convenience. After all, this is a mere question of expense. If they make the reservoirs which we think they ought to make, there is no doubt about it there is plenty of water in the river Thames for all the Companies who require it, but it is to be taken at a proper time and in a proper way, so that the river is not denuded of more than a proper quantity. I again say it is only a question of reservoirs and a question of expense. The Conservancy have carefully come to the conclusion that 300,000,000 gallons a day at Penton Hook is the very minimum which we can safely allow, and this would give 230,000,000 gallons at Teddington; but if the plans of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company are allowed to pass, in dry seasons it may get down to as low as 73,000,000 gallons a day, and then we shall get the river in the same state as it was opposite the Terrace of the House, which can be remembered, and well remembered, by so many of us a few years ago. I do hope that this House will at once re-affirm the principle that a certain amount of water is to be left in the river, the same as was settled before. I hope that the House will adhere to the principle laid down, so that all Companies may know in the future what will be done. It may be said that if this is all so necessary, why do you not raise these objections before a Committee and let a Committee decide it. I have no objection at all to this going before a Committee, because I have perfect confidence in what a Committee will do, but I have this to remember—the Conservancy is a very poor body. They have an enormous amount of duties cast upon them, the whole of the navigation of the river, the locks, and innumerable other things fall under their powers and duties, and it would be a great strain to cast upon the resources of that body the very large sum of money which would be required to fight this Bill in Parliament before a Parliamentary Committee, and which money could be so much better employed elsewhere. I think what I have said deals with the question of quantity which we claim should remain in the river and be necessary for navigation. Then I come to the other part of the Instruction. This has already been dealt with by Parliament who has ordered the Staines Reservoir Company to pay us £5,000 in order to construct a weir at Penton Hook, with special appliances, for the purpose of securing accuracy, and this is because they are in a position there, where no disturbance from pumping would take place, as it would if it were taken at Molesey weir, and where there are not the same quantity of orders to take the gauge at one place, to take it at more than one. I do hope that the House will not think I have detained it too long, and I trust that it will agree to my Instruction, which only contains that which will be fair to the navigation of the river, and to the advantage of the great trade which is carried on in the Port of London. It has the largest trade of any Port in the Kingdom—it is the richest one, and it is one which should not be jeopardised in any possible way. I think also it is necessary for the people living on the banks of the river below the place which this Company proposes to take, and I think it is for the interests of the other Water Companies that they should feel that no preference is given to one Company above the other; and I hope that all those interests will be considered by this House, and that they will not allow a Company which comes with any but clean hands, to ask for preference, to have that preference simply in order to enable the public interests to be made subservient to the profits and interests of the shareholders.

SIR J. B. STONE (Birmingham, E.)

formally seconded the Instruction.

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

I ask the House not to accept this Instruction, and in doing so I must express regret that my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy thought it proper to use expressions and to advance assertions which, however little connected with the issue before the House, could only have been mentioned for the purpose of imparting prejudice into this discussion. What is the position in which the House finds itself? There is hardly a single statement of fact in the speech of my hon. Friend which I am not prepared to dispute. How is the House to decide between us? Even assuming that these allegations are relevant, how is the House in a mere Debate upon a Second Reading to decide on the accuracy of what has been said upon one side and denied upon the other? Sir, I deny that the views of my hon. Friend are correct. I deny that the principle embodied in this Instruction has ever been accepted by this House before. I say that the principle accepted by the House in the Staines Reservoir Act was the exact reverse of that embodied in this Instruction. The principle of that Act was the principle of gauging the quantity of water to be taken at the place where it was natural and proper that it should be gauged, namely, below the point where the Company propose to take the water, and not above it. My right hon. Friend has said that in the short, temporary, transitional, and provisional Act which was passed last year, this particular point of gauging now demanded in the Instruction was inserted in that Bill. So it was. Why was it? The answer appears in my hon. Friend's own evidence, and not only is it in his evidence, but in the express words of the Acts, whereby all these questions were left entirely free and open for the future decision of Parliament. The only reason why that point was taken was because it was convenient to take the existing form of the words in the Act of 1896. It was of no importance to us whether they were taken or not, because the Staines Reservoir had not come into existence. It did not at all matter whether that minimum amount was required to flow over Pen-ton Hook. I am in a position to deny, and I do deny and repudiate with indignation, any idea that we have at all departed from any undertaking given by the Company. Our undertaking which, fortunately for us, is in writing, was to bring in a Bill in accordance with the Orders of this House, to legalise our position—a Bill which was to be mutatis mutandis in the terms of the Staines Reservoir Act. What do those words mutatis mutandis mean? They can have meant only that our Bill should provide, as the Staines Reservoir Act provided, a gauging below the intake and not above it. I may say that we have much reason to complain of my hon. Friend for the entirely unnecessary and injurious expressions which he has thought proper to introduce into his speech, and for the manner in which I am afraid he has been guilty of trying to prejudice the decision of this House. The past history of the taking of water by this Company from the river is not relevant to the present issue. All I have to say is that the Company always has desired to respect the wishes of the Conservancy and the Orders of this House of Commons, and I am bound to say that directly the Company found that their interpretation of the law was wrong, and that a Court of Law was against it, they came, as they were in duty bound to do, to this House to give them the necessary powers, and I may here say that my hon. Friend did not explain why the Conservancy did not earlier seek the decision of a Court of Law. It is not as if we were asking to get our water for nothing. We have been laid under a scale of payment in our Bill by which water which we have been allowed to take for nothing, will be paid for upon the most expensive modern scale. Another assertion of my hon. Friend, which I entirely dispute, is as to the minimum of 300,000,000 gallons a day over Penton Hook, which the House may know is a weir rather high up the Thames, and above the present intake of the water companies. This doctrine that 300,000,000 gallons at Penton Hook represents an equivalent of 230,000,000 over Teddington is unsound; and how is the House to try such a question? I respectfully submit to this House that it has a procedure whereby this sort of question can, and always has been, and in this case certainly should be, tried. There is another matter which my hon. Friend might have mentioned to the House. It is that the Staines Reservoir Act expressly provided an excess of 15,000,000 gallons a day to go over Penton Hook weir for the express purpose of providing water for the future needs of the companies having their intakes below. The Southwark and Vaux-hall Company was one of the companies expressly mentioned in the arrangement, and the Committee before whom that Bill came had its attention directed to this Act, and, having their eyes open, ordered that there should be this excess of 15,000,000 gallons a day. And now my Friend comes to this House and asks the House to compel us to see that 15,000,000 gallons a day go entirely by us and run down to the sea. Sir, it is not only that Parliament has not sanctioned this principle of gauging above the intakes, and, I venture to say that I defy any advocate of this Instruction, or my hon. Friend himself or anybody else, to point to any Parliamentary precedent for gauging above the intake. It is a highly controversial matter. The Engineer of the London County Council has recently been telling the Royal Commissioners on the water supply of the Metropolis, who are now sitting, about the point of gauging at Teddington weir. There you have an authority just as high as that of the Thames Conservancy—at all events, second only to it, which is in direct conflict with my hon. Friend's proposition. And yet my hon. Friend asks the House to accept his proposition merely because he thinks it is practicable, and that all his assertions ought to be taken as conclusive by this House. Sir, I hope the House will show its usual confidence in its own Committees. I hope the House will not allow its common sense and fairness to be perverted by these injurious imputations, every one of which can be rebutted by evidence if necessary, and I hope that the House will keep this as really what it is—a purely engineering question. It is new to me that the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company were ever in any kind of partnership with the other three companies. They never consented to join the Staines Reservoir Company. I have said, Sir, once that this is purely an engineering question only to be settled with maps and engineers who have observed the flow in the reservoir. It is a question not to be settled by the casual predispositions of this House, but, on the contrary, can be done by the express words of the Act of Parliament passed last Session. This instruction is entirely contrary to all legislative precedent. It is an entirely new departure, and it comes as an after-thought. They never mentioned it last year, and they never mentioned it this year at all, and, as I said, it is a highly controversial matter.


I received it signed by the Chairman.


Indeed, did not. There is nothing in writing, and there is nothing signed, excepting that which I have read, which was that we were to bring in a Bill mutatis mutandis, the same as the Staines Reservoir, can only mean a Bill with respect to which you take water from the Thames gauging below, and not above, the point of intake. I respectfully submit to this House that, according to the principle of many long years, during which the Committees of the House have proved themselves a proper tribunal for the consideration of such questions as these, if ever there was a question which should go to a Committee it is this question.

*MAJOR HENRY F. BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

There are a few words which I should like to say upon this question, because I can speak from an entirely impartial point of view. I do know something about London water companies. I will not repeat the arguments which have been already used upon this question, but there can be no doubt that this is entirely a question for expert evidence; and I cannot help feeling that, where we have a question of expert evidence to be settled, that expert evidence ought to be given before a Committee upstairs, and not before this House by hon. Members. Now, Sir, as regards this question, it seems to me to lie in a nutshell. The whole question is this: the Thames Conservancy say, We want a certain quantity of water to go down the Thames for the navigation of that river. On the other hand the water companies—the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, for instance—say they leave enough for the purposes of that navigation. Therefore the point to be decided is one for engineers and evidence, and that decision should be given by a Committee of this House upstairs; and if that Committee should, in the opinion of the hon. Members, make a mistake, an opportunity is given to this House to afterwards discuss the subject on the Report of that Committee. The Member for Uxbridge brought forward two or three very controversial points, and the only reason that he urged for this Instruction being given was that the Thames Conservancy could not go upstairs before the Committee. Why? Because, he said, it is a question of expense. Now, Sir, the Members of this House ought to remember that under this Bill, which is really a correlative Bill to that of last year, the Southwark and Vauxhall Company have to pay far larger sums of money for their water than they have yet had to do, and, therefore, that further income will go to the Thames Conservancy. I cordially congratulate my hon Friend in looking after the pecuniary interests of the Thames Conservancy, but at the same time I do feel that this is distinctly a question for engineers. It is, of course, a great convenience, both for the Conservancy and also for the companies, that the gauging should take place at a fixed point like Penton Hook weir. The Instruction is a very rigid Instruction, and practically ties the hands of the Committee too tightly—and I, at any rate, looking at this question from an entirely unbiassed point of view, hope that it will be threshed out in Committee, and certainly not before this House.


I hope that it will not be necessary for me to detain the House for more than a few minutes in dealing with this question, and I quite agree with my hon. Friend that this question appears to be in a very narrow compass. This is a Bill which is asked for on the ground that further powers are needed for the purposes of the business of this company; and it would not get the sanction of this House if it were likely to interfere with or prejudice any of the weirs. But I think there is another principle which the House must bear in mind. It is well recognised in connection with the Private Bills that where a number of arguments are introduced which are mutually destructive of each other the House of Commons is not in a position to decide and give a decision upon arguments of this kind. Now, we have heard many different contentions upon the point of gauging being above the intake, and another that it should be below the point of intake. Again, we are told that the quantity of water taken out of the Thames simply at certain points is not more than 300,000,000 gallons a day. But somebody else says it is only 250,000,000 gallons a day. And, again, we are informed of other controversial matters. I submit with great respect that these are all points upon which it is absolutely impossible for us to pronounce a technical opinion, and that we should do, as we do in the great majority of cases, let the Bill go before a Committee for the purpose of having this conflicting evidence threshed out in a satisfactory manner. Under these circumstances, I am very much disposed to ask my hon. Friend behind me to allow this Bill to go before a Committee.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

The hon. Gentleman opposite has done good service, as representing the body of which he is a Member, and as representing other bodies interested in this question, because my hon. Friend opposite me seems to desire to approach this question by preventing any misunderstanding between the Company and the House. But I think that anybody who has looked at this particular question must feel that we are not in a position in this House, and we ought not to be in a position, to hear evidence for or against the South London Water Company. We know what has been their action with regard to taking the water out of the Thames, and we do feel that in an inquiry of this kind some supervision should be exercised over the actions of the Company, but I am bound to say that the hon. Gentleman's Instruction is an absolutely mandatory one when he says that the gauge must be taken at certain specified points of the Thames, and that the minimum flow at that point must be no less than 300,000,000 gallons per day. I have little doubt that the public body which he represents knows all about both these points, but, not possessing the expert evidence which my hon. Friend has referred to, I am not in a position to say whether he is absolutely right in regard to this point, and if you will allow me to say so, while agreeing with him in all he says, and agreeing with them in the views that he has expressed, I think this discussion will show the opinion of this House in regard to this matter—that is, it is absolutely essential that nothing should be done by these Water Companies in arty way to prejudice the navigation of the Thames. Also, I think, it has been shown that it is quite necessary wherever the gauge is taken, that that must be taken at a point which will show the absolute flow, and therefore these matters should go before a Committee. It may be that Penton Hook weir is far above the place at which we take that measurement, but I do not think the House is in a position to judge over this question from a mandatory point of view, and therefore I hope my hon. Friend will not proceed in his mandatory Instruction, although with the general views which he has expressed I most cordially agree.


After the appeal made to me by the President of the Local Government Board, and also by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I do not think I can persevere in this Instruction, but I hope that the discussion of this subject has not been a waste of time of the House. I only thought it a public duty. I have no personal feelings in the matter whatever, and now I leave it with perfect confidence to the decision of the Committee upstairs.

Instruction by leave withdrawn.

Forward to