HC Deb 18 April 1899 vol 69 cc1467-95

Order for the Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed — That the Bill be now read a third time."—(The President of the Local Government Board.)

Amendment proposed — To leave out the words' now read the third time,' in order to add the word' re-committed.'"—{Mr. J. Stuart.)

MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I do not rise to oppose the Third Reading of this Bill, as at no part of the procedure of this Bill have I opposed the object which it endeavours to carry out, and I will give very briefly the reasons why I make that Motion. I cannot imagine that the right honourable Gentleman who is in charge of this. Bill can for a moment plead that the time necessary for the recommittal of this Bill is in any way vital to the situation, but there are faults of a very serious character in the Bill which I will endeavour to show the House call for consideration by a Committee of this House on the grounds that I shall briefly endeavour to indicate. In the first place, there is a great departure from all precedent in this Bill, because it gives unlimited powers of borrowing to the Metropolitan Water Companies without the sanction of Parliament, and it gives those unlimited powers for an unlimited period without placing their case before Parliament. Every one knows that the occasion of borrowing, or of asking for money for a given purpose, is the very occasion in which a public company can have its circumstances criticised or revised, and here we have in this Bill an unlimited power to that extent without the companies coming to Parliament at all. It is true that the Bill has for its object, as stated by those honourable Gentlemen who have brought it forward in the House, the dealing with cases of emergency, but the terms of the Bill do not limit it to any such case. The companies have been required by the Local Government Board to submit schemes for works enabling them to supply each other from any source of supply which any company for the time being are empowered to use, and to construct such works as may in the opinion of the Board be necessary for that purpose. Now, whatever may be the argument used in its support, there is no limit to the power which may be here exercised of borrowing for these purposes. I would like the House to see how that may work. Any water company which has access to a large supply of water —and undoubtedly some of them have —will here have it in their power to supply the other companies without the other companies going to their own source of supply, and without the intervention of the House of Commons. That is the point I complain of, and what I should desire to see this Bill recommitted for would be, in the first place, that we should have some intervention of the House of Commons in the future with regard to these borrowing powers, and some limitation of these borrowing powers, which would come to the same thing, and also some limitation of the period over which the powers of this Act extend. There is no ground just now for giving an unlimited power to the Local Government Board to sanction laws with regard to borrowing, because if it be done for the next five years, as was the case in several Bills of the right honourable Gentleman which have been passed, that would meet all that is urgent in the situation. But here this power is perpetual and is not limited by any time, nor is it limited by any amount. I should be content if it were limited in either of those ways, either in time or in amount, or if some other plan were devised, if the right honourable Gentleman prefers it, of bringing this question before the House of Commons and before a Select Committee. So much for that part of the Bill. And now let me ask why is it that this extraordinary departure from previous precedents is made by giving unlimited borrowing powers for an unlimited time I What is the amount which might be expected to be required by connecting their works in this way. The Royal Commission mention £64,000 as a probable and reasonable amount that might be used by the companies in connecting their works. But we know perfectly well that the companies have brought forward a scheme which involves the expenditure of over £500,000. I should like, therefore, this House to fix what is the sum at which these powers were to be bound to. I think we might very well have been content without putting any new borrowing powers in this Bill, and we might very well have made the companies concerned—which have already very considerable borrowing powers—deal with the question in this Bill within the sums already sanctioned to be borrowed by Parliament. Let us by all means in this Bill give them new borrowing powers, but let them be limited. I do most strongly warn the House against this new departure from precedent and against the evil of introducing a Bill which gives to any public companies supplying water in this way unlimited borrowing powers without coming to this House. Put in your limit and I shall be satisfied, and that is why I am asking for the recommittal of this Bill for this very purpose. It is surely a most reasonable and businesslike proposal. Let us fix a limit to the period over which this money will be capable of being raised against us. You will see that this Bill will go on year after year, and perhaps for century after century, the consequence of which will be that, as long as one water company can get access to what water it requires then all the water companies are allowed to do as they please without coming to this House, but simply by going only to the Local Government Board, and necessarily going to them under all circumstances. I now come to another point in the Bill which I think necessitates its recommittal. The point which I allude to is with respect to the sinking fund. Now, I was prevented, from reasons which I regret, taking part in the discussion in this House, when it came before Parliament, and my honourable Friend opposite who was on the Committee is aware of the reason why I was unable to be present. I extremely regret it, but still I am all the more free to comment upon the action that has been taken, and I say that there never was an adequate consideration given to this point, nor was this question adequately discussed as to the relation of this sinking fund before the Royal Commission. And yet the Committee which sat upon this Measure upstairs which was attended by a very small number of Mem- bers who were elected to sit upon it, really founded its opposition upon the recommendation of the Royal Commission. Now, what are the grounds for omitting the sinking fund from this Bill? Remember that ever since the year 1886 there has not been one single water Bill for allowing companies to borrow money which has passed through this House, which has not, by the sanction of this House, had a sinking fund introduced in it, the sinking fund being an arrangement whereby the ratepayers and the water consumers of London would share in the profits of the new capital. I read the Report of the Committee, and I read some statements which appeared in the Press in which it has been said that this capital is not to be remunerative, and therefore the sinking fund should not be applied to it. That might be a reasonable enough ground for this course which has been taken, but how can it be predicted that this capital is not remunerative? What is the object of the expenditure of this capital? Why, it is to enable the East London Water Company to supply its consumers, and to fulfil its obligations to them. What is the object of any other expenditure of money by the East London Water Company, or any other company, but to enable it to fulfil its obligations and supply the wants of its consumers? If the East London Water Company were not able to make good its deficiencies in this way it would have to do so by some other method, and could any honourable Member in this House be so bold as to say that under the borrowing powers introduced into an ordinary Bill, or existing in the Bill of the East London Water Company or any other company is insufficient to meet the difficulty. This has been a historical feature of the water legislation of this House for the last 15 years. I feel that the question of the relation of the sinking fund to the general finance of this Bill, and of the water companies, has not been fully viewed either by the Committee or by the Royal Commission, which did not give any serious attention to this particular point. How can you, when borrowing money in this way, differentiate between the different capitals that you raise for enabling the water companies in question to supply water to their consumers to' fulfil their obligations? To fulfil their obligations it may be said that the East London Water Company can raise this money from the ratepayers without fulfilling the obligation of dealing with the supply, and so it can. But can you suppose that that would be allowed to go on without the intervention of this House for any length of time? This House would, I think, soon put a stop to that state of things, and it would be put a stop to by the company rising to the height of its obligations and providing its consumers with the means of supply. Now, here the means of supply are provided, and the capital so made use of should be used in the same way as any other capital raised with the sanction of this House and the other House of Parliament. The third point upon which I wish to recommit this Bill is the point which I believe my honourable Friend opposite is very familiar with, and on this question I should be glad to hear his answer to the points I have raised, because many a time when I have sat on one side and the honourable Member has sat on the other and pleaded most eloquently and ably on behalf of his clients, I do not feel surprised, looking back upon these reminiscences, that he should have so readily allowed an opposing council to escape from the points which I have brought before him. At any rate, there is one point of view that I am astonished at the right honourable Gentleman, when he had migrated to the other side of the Table, being content with, and that is in the second sub-section of the first clause. Let me ask the right honourable Gentleman, or any Member of the House, to read that clause, and it will be at once seen that it does not apply to the Metropolitan water companies alone or to the area of these companies. The words of sub-section 2 are — For the construction of works required for the purposes of this Act each of the water companies may exercise without their district the same powers as they may exercise within their district. There is no definition given in these words, although it clearly ought to be "the metropolitan water companies." But there is a more substantial difficulty down below. Line 21 says— Nothing in any Act, whether general or local, shall prevent any such company from supplying water from another company, or for mother district. Now the meaning of these words is complete, and the consequence is that you are going to give power by this Bill —I do not know whether you mean to do so or not—to the metropolitan water companies to supply water in the district of any other company and in any other district. Now, if that be an error of drafting, all the more am I justified in saying that this Bill ought to be recommitted. I am astonished that the honourable Gentleman, who was present on the Committee, and who took such a leading part in its proceedings, should have so dealt with that matter, and I am all the more astonished because, according to what we are told, those who cross from one side of the Table to the other change their position, and not their habits of thinking. I am astonished that the honourable Gentleman has left behind him his accurate methods of thinking and his careful methods of expression. Instead of the words, "another company," or, "for another district," it clearly ought to be "another metropolitan water company," for that is the object of the Bill. The object of the Bill is not to go outside the metropolitan districts, and so let it be clearly expressed in the clause. There is only one more point, and I am sure that the points I am dealing with, at any rate, are worthy of consideration, and I am not detaining the House unnecessarily. I wish to remind honourable Gentlemen on the other side that I am not engaged in opposing the Third Reading of this Bill, but I am simply asking for certain Amendments to be made, which do not destroy the effect of the Bill in all that is required, as a matter of urgency. That is the point I want to impress upon the House. That is the last point I wish to call attention to in respect to what is required in the way of the Amendment of this Bill. It is a point in which the Bill actually goes beyond what was proposed by the Royal Commission's interim Report, although the Bill is entirely founded upon that Report. In the 42nd clause of this Report, the Royal Commission say — We regard the suggestions and recommendations in this Report as entirely independent of the other matters referred to us, and as in no way prejudicing the question of purchase of the companies' undertakings by one or more authorities, or the question of control to be exercised by local or other authorities, upon both which questions we are prosecuting our inquiry. Now, so far as the question of the difficulty arising under this Bill in case of purchase is concerned, that has been endeavoured to be met by the third clause of this Bill, where it says that— If the undertaking of any of the metropolitan water companies is purchased within seven years from the passing of this Act, otherwise than by agreement, by any public body or trustees, nothing in this Act shall authorise the company to bring into account or to make any claim in respect of any advantages conferred on them by or resulting from the passing of this Act. By the way, in passing, may I ask why, if there be no advantages in this Act accruing to a company by the expenditure of this money, why is that clause introduced; and, if that be so, how can it be argued if you are providing against the advantage of this not being turned into capital cash, that there should be no sinking fund placed upon this Act. The House will observe that whilst the Bill makes provision in case of purchase, there is no provision made in case of purchase not taking place, and in case of control. The words of the Royal Commission are that the suggestions are in no way to prejudice — The question of purchase of the companies' undertakings by one or more authorities or the question of control to be exercised by local or other authorities. I feel that, in order to bring up this Bill to the standard which is adopted in those words, that there should be a clause introduced, not only operating with regard to the advantages accruing in case of purchase, but setting out that — Nothing in this Act shall prejudice any application for the transfer of the undertakings from their regulation or control by any of these companies. Now, there can be no doubt whatever that, dangerous and difficult as this Act may be as it stands just now in the case of purchase, and I do not think it affects very much that side not the matter, it is extremely dangerous in the case of non-purchase. It is in that instance, more than any other of all the questions I have raised, which is of the most importance —that of an unlimited right to raise money without the control of Parliament. I do most ardently plead that there ought to be put into this clause some words that will what I may call sterilize its power of increasing the capital value in case of non-purchase1, as well as in the case of purchase. Now, I think I have made out, as briefly as I can, very reasonable grounds for dealing with this Bill by recommittal. I think I have put the points wholly from a business point of view, and if they are decided in the way I have pleaded, they do not in any way impede the operation of this Act to meet the state of urgency which it declares to exist. I have not entered into the major question, which was discussed on the First and Second Reading, as to whether that urgency exists, or whether it is necessary to be dealt with. I have not entered into the questions of what I would suggest to meet the future difficulties of the London water companies to supply other than themselves. I have kept my arguments wholly within the four corners of this Bill, and subsidiary to the expedients of the general principles of this Bill, and I say that it would be an unfortunate thing, unworthy of the business attitude of the House of Commons, if this Bill goes through without being modified in the directions which I have endeavoured to indicate.

SIR J. LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)

I beg leave to second the honourable Member's Motion.

MR. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)

In reply to the criticisms of the honourable Member opposite, I desire to say that the points he has raised do not arise in the sense he has indicated in his speech. In order to elucidate these points, I may say, in the first instance, that the whole purport of the Bill is to put a duty and obligation upon the water companies, and that duty and obligation is to make intercommunication for the purpose of preventing an in- sufficiency of supply. This obligation is to be carried out under certain circumstances, if called upon by the Local Government Board. As the honourable Member does not seem to have appreciated the whole object of the Bill, I will just read from section 1, sub-section 1, which says — It shall be the duty of the several metropolitan water companies, and they are hereby respectively authorized—— Now, what is that duty? It is to make arrangements for preventing an insufficiency of supply. That is the duty thrown upon them, which involves a new obligation, and, consequently, a new expenditure. In sub-section 5 of section 1 it is provided that — The Local Government Board may make such orders as they may deem necessary. In addition to that, you have got an obligation which may be enforced by the direct action of the Local Government Board itself. Everyone, I think, as well as the honourable Member opposite, regrets what happened within the last two or three summers, during the time of a very short water supply in the East End of London, and it was felt that an obligation of this kind should be put upon the water companies, more particularly upon the East London Water Company, in order to prevent a recurrence of the grave misfortune in the East End of a summer or two before, owing to a very short supply. Now, let me point out what appears to me to be a complete answer to the honourable Member opposite. I hope he will believe that what I am saying now is only the same subject matter as we discussed in the Committee itself. I only wish we could have discussed it together there instead of at the present moment. He says, an unlimited power has been given, extending over an unlimited term, and he says, if I could point out that his objection in this respect was wrong, his difficulty would be removed. Now, I think it is very easy to point out that in this regard he is under a misapprehension. As far as regards money, it is dealt with in section 2, and the only purpose for which they can raise money, which can only be done with the consent of the Local Government Board, is — For the construction of works required for the purposes of this Act. Now, is that an unlimited power? I think it is a very carefully limited power, and strictly in accordance with precedent. In the Act itself you define the powers in reference to which money is expended, and you have done it in this Act. Then, again, the only way in which this money can be expended from time to time is to be with the consent of the Local Government Board, and the works have to be carried out under the direction of the Local Government Board itself.


But there is no limitation to the period under which that may arise.


It is only unlimited in a sense, because, as I have stated, on the face of the Act the purpose—and the only purpose —for which the money can be expended, constitutes the limit, and, therefore, how can the honourable Member say that it is unlimited.


There is no sum stated.


No; but the purpose for which the money can be expended is stated. As the honourable Member has appealed to me, I assure him that in this Bill that power is limited in an effective way, for you can only raise the money for certain specified purposes. That is where these powers are always limited, and, therefore, it is strictly in accordance with precedent. The next point which the honourable Member raised was the question of the sinking fund. That matter was very carefully considered by the Committee, as the honourable Member well knows who seconded the Motion for recommittal. Now, the rule is this, so far as the sinking fund in this particular case is concerned. The recommendation of the Royal Commission was that there should be no sinking fund as regards the expenditure for the purpose indicated in this particular Act. That was the recommendation of the Royal Commission itself. And why did they recommend that? They pointed out that you are not giving a money-earning privilege to the company, but you are imposing an obligation and expenditure upon the company, and, under those circumstances, the Royal Commission pointed out that, in their opinion, it was not a case in which the sinking fund should be enforced. There may be certain differences of opinion, and some may think that the sinking fund ought to be imposed, and others will come to the contrary conclusion. But all I can say is, that the whole point was most fully considered by the Committee, both in discussion and in private, and the terms embodied in the Bill were only adopted after most careful inquiry. I am appealed to for precedent, but I would ask whether, after a Committee has carefully considered this matter, in which there is room for a difference of opinion, is it in accordance with precedent to recommit the Bill, and on what grounds? Here is a Committee, carefully chosen —a hybrid Committee—and it has most carefully inquired into and carefully weighed every argument, and has come to a certain conclusion. Now, I ask, is it in accordance with precedent to ask the House to recommit the Bill under such circumstances? The next point he raises is on sub-section 2 of clause I. Now, really I cannot understand why I am called upon to reply to the hypercritical attitude taken up by the honourable Member in this matter. If he asks me for my opinion as to this section, I say that, as regards the whole of the Act, it is limited to the metropolitan water companies.


It does not say so.


I think it is absurd hypercriticism for the honourable Member to select one particular word in one particular clause and place upon it such a construction. It does not require a lawyer to understand this point, for anyone can read it as a whole, without seeing the particular limitation for which the honourable Member seeks to argue, which is not included in the Act, which must be taken as a whole. It is not an oversight, and it is a very hypercritical suggestion, if I may say so without offending the honourable Member opposite; it looks like a criticism made in the absence of a better argument, and it is a construction in which I say that the honourable Member is inaccurate. Now, the last point is on this question of control in which he says the Committee have gone beyond the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Now, we have not gone beyond those recom- mendations, for we have neither gone beyond them nor outside of them. The Bill in its present form does not deal with the question of control from beginning to end. That is absolutely outside this question altogether, and I would ask the honourable Member, who has considered this matter carefully, on what point this question of control is raised in this Bill. Speaking perfectly frankly, I cannot see that the question of control is raised in this Bill in any single clause. If that is so, my honourable Friend will admit, I think, that merely to introduce a provision with reference to the question of control when that subject is not dealt with in the subject matter, would not only be very bad drafting, but would be a very bad way of dealing with an Act of Parliment. Now I think I have dealt with all the points raised by the honourable Member opposite. We very much regret, as I said at the outset, that he was not present at the Committee, and I hope he is satisfied, although there may be differences of opinion upon various points, that all the technical points he has raised have no weight, and that on those other points, although he may not agree with the determination we came to, they certainly do not constitute a case in which the decision of the Committee ought to be put aside, or upon which there ought to be a recommittal of the Bill.

MR. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I think my honourable Friend was quite justified in moving this Motion apart from the Committee itself, for the House ought to remember the position in which it has been put in regard to this Bill by the Government. We have really had no opportunity of discussing this Bill. It was introduced under the 10-minutes' Rule, and only one speech was allowed. We took the Second Reading about a quarter past eleven, and there was no possibility of properly discussing it then. It was then referred to a Committee, and that Committee reported. The Government, however, instead of giving proper notice, as I think they ought to have done, to the metropolitan Members, got this Bill through —I will not say unknown, but unobserved —on the first day after the Recess, which day is always devoted to more or less non-contentious matters of Supply and other subjects. Not only was it put down on the first day, but it was put down without affording my honourable Friend an opportunity of putting down any Amendments at all. Practically, the Bill only came back to the House on the Monday before the Recess, when, I believe, some Scotch Bill comes on, and the majority of Members had not observed that this Bill had been recirculated again. Not only was the Bill put down for the first day after the Recess, but the Report of the Committee was not even in the hands of the Members of the House. Therefore, I say that we have had no adequate opportunity of considering this Measure or of putting down Amendments. I think my honourable Friend behind me, on those grounds alone, was justified in moving the recommittal of this Bill. The honourable Gentleman who has just spoken has, I think, missed very largely the points made by my honourable Friend. With regard to the Committee itself, I make no accusation against it, but I think it was rather unprecedented for the Chairman of that Committee to be proposer and promoter of the Bill which that Committee had to consider. He was, at the same time, both judge and jury. I am quite sure he was absolutely impartial in the chair, but I say that it is a position in which neither the House of Commons or the Committee ought to be placed. I have, since this Bill passed through the Committee stage, had an opportunity of looking at the evidence given before that Committee, and it is perfectly obvious to anybody who reads that evidence —and I think the honourable Member for Stroud will not deny this —that there was not a great deal of evidence given before the Committee in favour of the Bill. The result was that those representing the London County Council who wish to bring these points before the Committee were placed at a very great disadvantage, for they were called upon all of a sudden to put their witness (Mr. Dickinson) in the box, and they were unable to support his evidence with proper care through the rapidity of the action of the Committee with evidence by further witnesses. That, I think, is, on the face of it, a reason why we ought to recommit this Bill, in order that, the House may consider these matters to which my honourable Friend has referred in Committee of the whole House. I wish very clearly to define my own position in regard to this matter. I entirely agree with the general principle of this Bill, for I believe it is necessary in order to avoid any danger of a further water famine in the East End of London. I do not, however, think that there is any urgency in regard to the actual passing of this Bill, because, on the showing of the evidence of the Royal Commission itself, it is obvious that what has already been done by the East London Water Company is quite sufficient, in their opinion, to carry them over for some considerable time in advance. Therefore, I think it is essential that this Bill should not be rushed through with bad clauses in it, because there is no matter of urgency for a few weeks or a few months, because all that has to be done has practically been done, and all that this Bill will do is practically to legalise and carry out more effectually what has already been done by the East London Water Company and other companies in combination. With regard to what my honourable Friend behind me has in view, I want to appeal to the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Bill and ask him if he will give us a definite pledge —which, I understand, the right honourable Gentleman did give on the Second Reading —that this shall be distinctly a temporary Measure, and that he will take some steps to secure that some amendment shall be introduced in another place which will mark this Bill as a temporary Measure. As a temporary Measure we have no objection to it, but as a permanent Measure I regard it as very dangerous indeed. I will not go into detail upon any of the points which have been raised by my honourable Friend behind me, but the honourable Member who has just spoken has said that my honourable Friend's fears of unlimited expenditure and unlimited powers were not well founded, and that they were strictly limited by the object and purpose of this Bill. Yes, they are strictly limited by the purpose of the Bill, but if the honourable Member has read the Report of the Royal Commission he will see that the work is one which involves an expenditure of£600,000, and what we want —and what we believe is quite necessary —is to lay down that their proposal—which involves an expenditure of something like £60,000 to £70,000—is adequate for all the purposes which we have at present in view, and what we want is to limit the Bill to that expenditure, and not allow it to extend to half a million more. The honourable Member said that the Committee had gone fully into the question of the sinking fund, but the evidence in regard to this matter was, under the circumstances, not in the hands of the Members in time, and they were not able to see the evidence, which should have been placed before them. The honourable Member said that no profit would accrue to the companies under this proposal. I think my honourable Friend pointed out that under the clause dealing with the purchase question there is some anticipation that some profit will be derived. Is it not almost certain that some profit will accrue, because they are going to be allowed to draw from other districts water which they could not draw because their present obligation is confined to certain districts? They will be able to obtain anything between 12,000,000 gallons and 24,000,000 gallons a day without paying anything for it. This they will distribute to the consumer, and upon that they will obtain a very considerable profit. But whether they obtain a profit or not, this question of the sinking fund ought not to be omitted in a Bill of this description. It is intended for a temporary purpose, and the question of the sinking fund ought not to be prejudiced in reference to this matter. When we were discussing the question of purchase in the year before last by the County Council, and considering the question of a new supply, and when proposals had been made for dealing with the water question, the right honourable Gentleman fell back upon the word "remission" as an argument prejudicing any of these questions involved in the question of the water companies. I appeal to him, therefore, and I hope successfully, that he shall do nothing under this Bill which in any possible way, cither in regard to purchase or control, or in regard to the best means of obtaining real inter-communication, that he shall make the provisions of this Bill so that they will prevent, this Measure from being in any sense of the term permanent, I think we are entitled to expect from him, as President of the Local Government Board, and as having previously assented to the idea, a promise that this Bill is to be a temporary one. We want not only his own word in regard to this matter, but I think we are entitled to expect that he will put words into it, either in this House or in another place, which will mark the Bill as a purely temporary one. What I want is that the Bill should be made a temporary Measure for five years, and no longer. By that time some steps will have been taken to settle this water question, and by that time we shall have the Report of the Water Commission published, and the House will be in a position to deal effectively with the question. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will see his way to meet us in reference to these points. If it is made a temporary Measure I shall support it; but if it is a permanent Measure which is going to prejudice those matters to which my honourable Friend has referred, I shall feel bound to oppose it.


I share to the full the regret which has been expressed by more than one speaker in this House at the enforced absence of the honourable Member for Hoxton during the preceding stages of this Bill, and I heartily join in welcoming the honourable Member back again to the House. I am glad he is present, because I hope we shall be able to remove from his mind some of the objections which he entertains in regard to this Measure. I cannot altogether agree with some of the observations of my honourable Friend who has just sat down. He says, that there has been no fitting opportunity given to discuss this Bill. In reference to this point he has made a somewhat vague qualification, but all I know is this, that the Notice was put upon the Paper before the adjournment with regard to this Bill by the Minister in charge of it, and I have always treated this Bill at its several stages as a Measure which I regarded as one of great urgency, and with regard to which I have always pointed out that I should take every opportunity of which I could avail myself of forwarding its passage through the House. Under these circumstances I think I am entitled to consider that honourable Members have had sufficient notice of the intentions of the Government to proceed with this Bill on the first day when it could be put down on the Paper, which happened to be the first day after the Recess. With regard to the observation that no opportunity was given of putting down Amendments, I must repeat what I said on a former occasion —namely, that there was the whole of one Parliamentary day of eight or nine hours upon which any honourable Member who desired to do so might have placed Amendments to the Bill upon the Paper. Seeing that this is a Bill of only three or four clauses, which honourable Members opposite say they do not desire to oppose in principle, and to which their objection is limited to only two or three points, I cannot help thinking that if they had desired to do so they could have exercised that vigilance in which honourable Gentlemen opposite are seldom found wanting —especially in regard to any Bill of which I have had charge in this House —their Amendments might have been placed upon the Table and have received adequate time for discussion. It is not accurate to say that these Amendments were not discussed, because when the time arose for taking the Committee stage by this House we devoted four or five hours to its discussion, and honourable Members did take objection to the Bill upon a number of points, and an Amendment was moved on one of the most important points which the honourable Member for Hoxton has raised to-day, and we discussed it for some considerable time. I may say that the logical arguments I used upon that occasion were such that honourable Members declined even to take a Division upon the question. So much, then for the argument that honourable Members had not sufficient opportunities of discussing this question in Committee. The honourable Member took some exception to the conduct of the Committee upstairs, and also to the selection of Chairman. Well, perhaps it was wrong that I should be the Chair man, but I really had no alternative but to accept the position. In regard to this Bill I happen to occupy an unusual position. As a matter of fact this Bill, which is put forward by the Government, is partially of a public and partly of a private nature, and I believe I only followed the usual prece- dent in accepting the chair upon that occasion. Then the honourable Member said that this is not a question of any urgency whatever because the works required are already done. Upon that point I must tell the honourable Member that he has been misinformed, because the works are not already done. As a matter of fact, some of the works, I am advised, which were urgently required, nave been brought to a deadlock because the necessary powers to enable them to continue the works were wanting.


I quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission.


There is nothing that can be carried out without the necessary powers contained in this Act, the object of which is to increase the supply of the East London Water Company, a condition which the Royal Commission themselves laid down in order to avert any future probability of danger of short supply, and on that point the honourable Gentleman may take it from me that he has been misinformed, and that the works cannot be proceeded with until this Measure has granted them the necessary powers.


I do not mean for a moment to suggest that this Bill is not necessary to carry out the works. All I say is, that the East London Water Company have taken steps to guard against a short supply in the future, and, therefore, the House ought to have had a proper opportunity of considering this Bill.


Of course, everything in regard to the water supply in the East End of London depends on the weather, and I am not prepared to run any risk whatever which I can possibly avoid, so far as I am responsible, for a recurrence of the great calamity of the water famine of last year. Well, now I come to the various questions raised by the honourable Gentleman who moved this Amendment. He asks us to recommit the Bill, on the ground that there are some points which he thinks have never been fully discussed. Well, I cannot agree with the proposal or the arguments by which he has supported it. In the first place, supposing I were to agree to this proposal, when is this Bill going to get through? Honourable Gentlemen from all parts of the House are aware that the weight of Government business is such that if I were to accept this proposal, and agree that this Bill should be recommitted, I do not know when I should be able to have another day on which to bring it forward again, and the prospect of its passing into law this Session would be very doubtful. As I have already told the House, there was ample time on the last occasion when this Bill was discussed for the consideration of any Amendments that anybody desired to move. In addition to that, we know that the Bill has passed through a Committee upstairs, where, with all respect to the honourable Member who has just sat down, who says that, practically, no evidence was given before that Committee, I say it was treated as fully as it ought to have been treated. I am of the contrary opinion, that every argument was put forward in respect of the views which he advocates, for they were urged with great power and ability by the gentleman who represented the body of which the honourable Member opposite is one of the most able representatives in this House. They did deal with the question of the sinking fund which was raised, and there was an Amendment moved upon this very point. I do not think that it is necessary for me to repeat the arguments which I urged upon that occasion. The clause relating to the sinking fund was fully discussed, and evidence was given upon the subject. The honourable Member for Hoxton said that that evidence was very inadequate, and he is entitled to that opinion if he chooses to hold it. But, on the other hand, I am ready and willing to give credit to the Royal Commission for taking evidence which they thought was necessary on the subject. The honourable Member must recollect that these works are of a totally different character from all other works contemplated by the water companies in this respect —that they are works which they may be ordered to make by a Government Department, whether they desire to make them or not, or whether those works will be profitable or not. Under those circumstances, I must say that it does seem to me that to over-ride the views of the Royal Commission, which has taken evidence upon this subject, would have been very harsh treatment indeed with regard to the companies. In reference to the unlimited power of borrowing money in the future, to which he takes so much exception, and for which he says the Bill should be recommitted, my honourable Friend behind me has already pointed out that the whole of these borrowing powers are subject to the approval of the Local Government Board. The honourable Member may think that this is an insufficient limitation, and it may or may not be so. Personally, I think it is ample, and it is not likely, I think, that the Local Government Board will call upon the metropolitan water companies to spend money which, in their opinion, is not absolutely necessary. The honourable Member asks why is this power to be given at all? There is a scheme before the Royal Commission for the expenditure of £61,000, and he contends that that is all that is wanted. But I must point out to him, what has been pointed out already to the honourable Member opposite, that there are other schemes before the Royal Commission. There is one which contemplates an expenditure of something like£500,000 or£600,000. Now, the honourable Member on the Front Bench opposite asks me to limit this sum, and he wishes I would give them a pledge that until the Report of the Royal Commission is received I will not sanction any more schemes upon this subject than those which are absolutely necessary, and which cannot be accomplished by the expenditure of a smaller sum of money. Well, Sir, after all that occurred last summer, a great deal of which was entirely unexpected, as far as I am concerned, I am very anxious indeed to avoid committing myself by any pledges upon this subject. The House must remember that this Bill, when it becomes law, will cast a very considerable responsibility indeed upon the Local Government Board, and I do not wish to give pledges which might unfortunately hamper, embarrass, and fetter my hands, for I should have the responsibility if any unforeseen con- tingency should arise in the future. What I am quite right in saying, however, is that the request which the honourable Member makes is entirely in accordance with my intentions, and with the views of the Department, so far as I am able to forecast them. We do not contemplate in the immediate future anything more than that kind of expenditure which the honourable Member has suggested to-night, and it is, as far as I can judge, sufficient for the immediate future, and it is probably all that is likely to be required at present. It seems to me that even this statement to-night is unnecessary, because I do not think, from the very nature of the case, that anything more than what has been provided for would be possible before the Report of the Royal Commission has been made. I am sure he would not desire me to pledge myself under these circumstances, because the whole question will then come before Parliament again. There is another reason given by the honourable Member himself why I should not give a pledge of this nature. In the course of his observations with regard to the water question in London, he said that this question has been so often postponed that there was no reason in the world why it should not go dragging on unsettled for century after century, and he could see no time when it would be completely settled. For this very reason I think it is unnecessary to recommit this Bill. The last question raised by the honourable Member was this: he asks why is clause 3 in the Bill at all? Now, clause 3 provides that the companies shall derive no advantage, in the event of purchase, from having made these communications. Th argument was that if there was no profit and no necessity for a, sinking fund, upon what possible grounds is clause 3 introduced? Well, that clause has been inserted certainly rather against the interests of the companies, for it has been inserted in order to remove all possibility of any doubt whatever on the question. Now, I think, to the best of my ability, I have answered the various criticisms which have been made upon the Bill, and I have endeavoured to give reasons which, I hope, will be sufficient why we cannot agree to recommittal of the Bill. That being so, I hope honourable Gentlemen opposite —all of whom say that they are agreed that they are not opposed to the Bill in principle, and that they do not wish to arrest its progress —will allow this Bill now to be read a third time.


I share with all the previous speakers the satisfaction which has been expressed that my honourable Friend is now present. I may say that we were placed at the greatest possible disadvantage when this Measure came up in Committee on account of his absence. I think he has stated very lucidly most of our objections to the Bill, but there is one remark which he made with which to some extent I disagree, and that is the remark that we did not oppose the Bill on principle. That remark leads us to the very centre of the policy which we are discussing here this afternoon. The suggestion which the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down has made is that this is a most urgent question, because it is necessary to deal with the emergencies arising in the East End of London. Now, the whole argument has been devoted to the East End of London, but there is nothing in the Bill about the East End of London. I do not think there is anybody who would object to the Bill if it were limited to the district of the East End of London, or if any other limit were imposed. The Bill, however, applies to the eight companies and to the whole of the metropolitan district, and therefore I think it should be looked at from the standpoint of other parts of the metropolis that may be injuriously affected by the Bill. We ought to try and make this clear with regard to the East End of London. I have stated that if the Bill was confined to that single district there would be no objection 'to it. Now, abundant evidence was given both before the Committee and before the Royal Commission that practically the emergency which exists in the East End of London has been fully met. I would like to state to the House one or two facts to support my contention. There was a petition presented from the London County Council to the Select Committee, in which it was stated — Your petitioners …believe that communications between the companies' mains already exist. Communications by means of your petitioners' Blackwall Tunnel are, in fact, now in operation, having been made with a view of relieving the recent deficiency of water in the East End of London. Now, that statement, was made before, the Committee, and it was not cross-examined. My point here is, that the London County Council state that this communication between the companies did not relieve the deficiency of water in the East End of London. The single witness examined, before the Commission was Mr. Dickinson, of the London County Council, and so far as his evidence went, he said — It was proved that the means the water companies had now taken were quite sufficient to protect East London against famine. Now, this witness was, not cross-examined, and he declared that full provision had been made for the East End of London. I now turn to the Report of the Royal Commission. It is in that Report where the figure mentioned is given. On page 9 of the Report, the number of gallons of extra supply that can be given to the East End of London by the several communications which have now been established are fully set out. Then the Royal Commission report in these words, and this is what they found on the subject— If the existing connection with the Southwark and Vauxhall Company had been established early in the year 1898, and the fullest supply possible had been taken from the New River and the Southwark and Vauxhall Companies from the 20th of June onwards, the usual supply might have been maintained in the district of the East London Company throughout the period of drought. That is the finding of the Royal Commission, and those three authorities prove, by the evidence brought before them, that the difficulties in the East End of London have been fully met. It has been suggested that the difficulty complained of is not a, real one, but that it, has been made a pretext for thrusting this Bill upon the House. What is the origin of this Bill? We are told that it is a Government Bill, but, strictly speaking, it is not a Government Bill at all. The Bill is a water companies Bill, which has been taken up by the Government for the purpose of carrying out the policy of the water companies. I think that fact puts, a, very different complexion upon what we are doing this afternoon, and I substantiate that charge by the very paragraph which I have quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission. It is necessary to remember what the Royal Commission was appointed to decide. There were two questions put to them, and I will mention them. One was the desirability of purchasing the eight companies, and that was the question which, the London County Council desired should be decided. The second question was that, if purchase is not desirable, what control of the inter-communication between the companies may be desirable. That is the question which the companies wanted discussed. They thought they would dispose of the principle of purchase, and then would arise this question of inter-communication. To prove that the proposals of the Bill emanated from the water companies I will quote from the first clause of the Report, which says— The companies had come to the conclusion that inter-communication would be convenient, and that they were prepared to promote a Bill in Parliament during the ensuing Session. It was, I believe, in the summer of 1897 when this plan of the companies was brought forward, and there is a subclause in which every proposition now embodied in this Bill was set forth by the companies, and the companies asked that legislation in this direction might be undertaken on their behalf. Therefore, that is the real object of this Bill. It is not to deal with an emergency, which is only made a pretext for the passing of this Bill, which is simply drawn up in the interests, of the water companies. I do not wish to go into the evils of the Bill, but if the House will consider the question from the standpoint I have established, honourable Members will see that it is a matter which deserves a, great deal more consideration than it has yet received. Just look at the large powers which we are putting into the hands of these companies? They are to raise money by going to the Local Government Board instead, as hitherto, of coming to the House of Commons when they want money, and all the defence that has been made is that they may be required to make the provision before they are allowed to raise the money, just as if that gave any security. I think the right honourable Gentleman will admit that I am not out of order, for this is the very principle of the Bill. Now, what is the Local Government Board? Is it a body that, gives any protection to the public or to the ratepayers of London in this matter at all? I say it is not, because the ratepayers of London look to the London County Council to protect them, and they look to this House also to protect them. It is a very poor protection indeed to say that the raising of this money will require the sanction of the Local Government Board, for how will that Department act? One would think, to read this Bill, that the Local Government Board is a philanthropic body, going about trying to do something for the benefit of humanity, or for the benefit of the London ratepayer, but it is nothing of the kind. Now, what is there to stimulate the Local Government Board into action if this Bill is passed into law? Can this House expect that the London County Council has got anything more to say to it? No, it is the water companies who are to stimulate the Local Government Board into action. The companies will go to the Local Government Board, and say, "Look here; if you do not call upon us to do this there will be an emergency, and the responsibility for it will be thrown upon you." No doubt the right honourable Gentleman will be afraid to take the responsibility, and will consent. Therefore, I think the House should be afforded an opportunity of looking into this question more carefully. Hitherto this House has been the protector of the ratepayers in such matters, and no money could be raised for any purpose unless this House approved of it. In this Measure, however, the companies are practically taking the matter completely out of the hands of the House of Commons. I say it is a very large Bill, and if the three quotations which I have given from the evidence before the Select Committee and the petition of the London County Council are true, and if it is true that the emergency in the East End of London has been dealt with, we ought to think twice before we pass a Bill without any limitation such as that which is now before the House. I am glad to have had the assistance this afternoon of my honourable Friend who has moved that the Bill be recommitted, for he in his wisdom thought that the best course to adopt, and I shall, therefore, support his Motion.

MR. H. S. SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)

I do appeal to the House not to sanction the recommittal of this Bill, but to give it a Third Beading this day. I cannot understand the position which has been taken up by honourable Members opposite, especially the honourable Member for Poplar, who asserts that he is in favour of the principle of this Bill, and yet does everything he can to delay its passing into law. He contends that a delay of a week or of a month or two will have no effect whatever, but that is exactly the same argument which was adduced by honourable Members, on that side of the House in the year 1893 and again in 1894, when, by their refusal to sanction works which were necessary for the construction of reservoirs, they forced East London to go through a serious famine. Surely by this time we have arrived at a just conclusion in regard to the whole matter. Over and over again we find honourable Members so anxious to support their own propaganda, and so anxious for the honour of the London County Council, that they would again force my constituents to suffer the pangs of a water famine rather than sanction anything that might help the water companies, and in any way detract from the fetish which they have set up. I desire to protest emphatically against this course of conduct. Does the House imagine for an instant that if this Bill was promoted by the water companies that they would be anxious to spend large sums of money for no purpose whatever? They are convinced that the only way to provide for the absolute necessities of East Londoners is to have these mains joined to those of other companies, and for that particular purpose the Government have now introduced this Bill. I sent copies of the Bill to all the authorities of Greater London, and almost in every case their answers approve of the prin- ciple of the Bill. I thank the Government cordially for at last having arrived at the conclusion that East London is entitled to have a, proper water supply, and I would ask the House to recognise the fact that its action in, years gone by has caused serious trouble and inconvenience to East London. I do ask them now, even at the eleventh hour, not to further delay the passing of this Bill.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

I do not desire to detain the House very many moments in what I have to say. The honourable Member for Limehouse has accused the Party on this side of the House of opposing this Bill in order to advocate their own political propaganda. Well, I represent an East End constituency as well as the honourable Member for Limehouse. I do not only represent that constituency, but I live in it and was practically born in it. [Laughter.] I do not see much to laugh at in that remark. I was born in the adjoining constituency, therefore I am not like the honourable Member for Limehouse, who comes down from the West End to the East End and represents an East End constituency in this House, and does not share the poverty and misery of his constituency, by the fact that he is living in. the West End of London. That being so, I am more anxious than he is himself to see some solution to this most difficult problem. Now there is only one practical solution, in my opinion, and in the opinion of the working men in the East End of London, and that has been proved over and over again, and demonstrated a thousand times by resolutions carried at public meetings —not at ticket meetings, for any person could attend them. The only practical solution is the one that has been advocated, not for the purpose of putting forward our own political views, but in the interests of the ratepayers of London, so far as this water question itself is concerned. During the last five years we have had no less than three water famines in the East End of London, and I have had to take my share of those famines with the rest of the residents in the East End of London. Now, who caused those famines? In 1894 the East London Water Company blamed the London County Council, and again in 1896 and in 1898 they had the same excuse, that it was the London County Council which was responsible. In 1898, as on previous occasions, they came forward with a paltry excuse, and | placed ail the responsibility of the famine upon the London County Council. Well, what happened on the occasion of the last famine only last summer? The inhabitants of the East End of London were given a four hours' supply —a sup- ply of two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon —for sanitary purposes: and if it had not been for the energy displayed by the medical officers of health in the East End of London, what would have happened in the slums where from 10 to 20 human beings are huddled together in the same house, with only a four hours' supply and no storage accommodation? I wrote myself to the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and in his reply he told me that he had no power to deal with the matter. In 1898, when the reservoirs were all empty, and the famine had been in existence for some few weeks, they started to make connections with other companies. I notice that until the Bill becomes law these connections are of a voluntary character. Now, I disagree with my honourable Friend the Member for Islington with reference to the connections under the Blackwall Tunnel. I say that as far as the connection with Kent companies and the East London Water Company under the Blackwall Tunnel is concerned, the matter is not worth talking about. But is it proposed to do under this Bill what happened last summer? Is the Local Government Board going to allow the East London Water Company to have empty reservoirs before they make their connections with the other companies? Is the right honourable Gentleman going to compel the East London Water Company, the moment they find that there is likely to be a drought, to put these connections into operation with the various companies named in this Bill, and by that means secure for us in the East End of London a constant supply? I do not agree with the course adopted by the Local Government Board on this occasion; at the same time it is a remedy for the time being. From the action of the present Government in throwing out the London County Council's Wales scheme, I know that we cannot expect any proposal from them for the purchase of water companies' undertakings at a fair and reasonable price, vesting control of the supply in the London County Council. But rather than there should be a repetition next summer, or the summer after, of the sufferings of the working classes in the East End of London, I intend, after the assurance given by the President of the Local Government Board that this Bill will enable him to force the companies to give a constant supply, to vote for the Bill.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I do not rise to refer to the general aspects of the Debate, but merely to what fell only a few moments ago from the President of the Local Government Board. The right honourable Gentleman did not find himself able to accept the whole of the suggestions made to him, but his assurances tended very considerably in the direction of the suggestions made on this side of the House. Under these circumstances, and accepting the assurances of the right honourable Gentleman, I would suggest to my honourable Friend the Member for Shoreditch that he should not press his Motion to a division.


After the assurances of the right honourable Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw this Amendment, because I have ascertained that the order of procedure in the House of Lords will admit of this Bill being petitioned against, and when it goes before a Select Committee, the points I have urged can be dealt with. I ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Question put — That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.

Agreed to.