HC Deb 27 April 1899 vol 70 cc680-7
MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I move that the Second Reading be postponed to 1st June.

MR. DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)

We have received no notice that these Bills were to go off, and I must say that great inconvenience arises from honourable Members being brought down here to consider Private Bills (by Order), and that then they should be put off. I have an objection to their going off, and I move that the Amendment be taken, now.


The honourable Member cannot move an Amendment to do that. The only thing the honourable Member can do is to vote against the postponement of the Second Reading.


I wish to say that as the Bill is put down by Order it ought to be proceeded with, but the difficulty that the House is in is that the honourable Member who has undertaken to move its rejection is not here. His notice for rejection is on the Paper and he is not here, an arrangement having been come to between the parties. Of course, I have nothing to say to that arrangement, but I must object to the postponement of a Bill in this manner. The Bill is down "by Order," and to postpone it in this way is a most inconvenient course to everybody here. Of course, if the House had been informed of the proposed postponement I should not object to it.


I entirely admit the inconvenience of postponing this Bill from time to time, but it will be remembered, I think, that with the complete approval of the House I took the course when this Bill was first down of proposing its postponement from that time to a later date in the hope that the Royal Commission, which is now sitting on the Water question, would have indicated the solution which it desired to make; and, Sir, I have on more than one occasion taken the same course with respect to this Bill for ex- actly the same reason, and I, not unnaturally, postponed it until a late date because I, with the rest of the House, had heard rumours afloat that the Commission might report at that time—I believed, by the present occasion. The evidence to be given before the Commission was finished a considerable time ago, and the Commission might reasonably have been expected to report by this time. I am not finding fault with the Commission, but I mean that outsiders might reasonably have expected it to have made its report by this time. But finding it has not done so, and hearing, at any rate, that the Commission will report by the Whitsuntide holidays, and thinking that that is a very reasonable expectation, I have taken the course which has been proposed by the honourable Gentleman who has proposed this date of asking the House to postpone the Hill to the date which he has indicated. The reason of that date is a very simple one, and the reason against taking the Hill now is equally a very simple one. I have no desire to divide the House on this London Water question when the obvious reply to my position would be that a Commission is just about to report, and, therefore, this matter cannot be decided upon its merits. I think, with proper deference to the House and to the Commission, that I ought to maintain that position. I propose to put it off now till immediately after the Whitsuntide holidays. I think honourable Members will admit that it is the first possible day, and if it be not, I shall be happy to accept any other that is suggested, but I think it is the first possible day after the Whitsuntide holidays. I wish to point out to honourable Gentlemen that this is not such a great postponement in the case of the present Bill as it might be in the case of an ordinary Bill, because it is postponed in the hope that the Commission may have reported favourably—may have reported by that time. Now, if the Commission reports favourably to purchase, which I would hope, at any rate, or in whichever way the Commission reports, it will be observed that a great portion of time, which will be occupied in discussing such a Bill in this House, would take place upon the issue of—Should the purchase take place or not? If there is the Report of the Royal Commission, after the attitude which all sides of the House have taken upon that question, suppose the Commission reports in favour of purchase, it will scarcely need to be argued. There would be, therefore, merely a question of clauses and the other portions of the Bill. If this Bill had, without the Commission sitting at all, gone on in the ordinary course, and been started at the ordinary time, by the Whitsuntide holidays—and I am speaking with considerable experience as Chairman of Committees—we would not really have got through the main issue of whether purchase should be permitted or not. So postponing it, as I do, till after Whitsuntide in the hope that the Commission will have reported, I believe the Bill will be practically under the same circumstances and in the same condition relatively to the Committee as it would be if this interval of delay had not taken place. I would really appeal to the House not to cut off the last opportunity that there may be for passing this Bill, because if this Bill be dealt with just now, to-day, it is quite obvious that the House will hold, and very fairly argue, if it is dealt with today, that the Commission has not reported. But if the Commission should report, and we should be able to deal with it on the 1st June, we have still a very reasonable opportunity of passing the Bill into law. And, Sir, allow me to point out why I desire to have that opportunity and ask the House to support me in getting that opportunity. It is that the sands are running out. There are a large number of Bills which have been passed for various companies—for every company, in fact—within the last five years except the Kent Company. Every company has obtained a Bill giving powers amounting to nearly 4½ millions of money, and with this year to six millions of money; and to a large amount of that is affixed the condition that it shall not affect the value of the companies if purchase takes place within a certain time. Sessions are, therefore, of extreme importance in this matter, and my hope is, if the Commission should report, as I hope it might report, we should be able to save a Session in this important matter, otherwise a very large and serious charge will be thrown upon the people of London, contrary, as I venture to suppose, to the wishes of Com- mittees of Parliament which have inserted that clause suspending the addition to the companies' value for a period of years in each case. These are the reasons both why I did postpone the Bill and why I do not ask the House to take it just now, and why I hope that the House will not extinguish this possibility. The Bills of the companies have gone on this year, and they are before a Committee, and if I am rightly informed, the Committee has suggested to them to wait a little before they proceed till they see what the Royal Commissioners' Report may be. I think we are all desirous of seeing that, and I think I have shown good reason why we should be left the last chance we can have in this matter. I have taken every opportunity of letting the House know of the postponement by putting it in the public prints, and in other ways I have tried to meet the convenience of the House; but the circumstances are extremely peculiar, and that being so, though the procedure may be somewhat inconvenient—I admit that it is inconvenient, but I say the inconvenience is not one of the creation of the promoters of this Bill—I think it is a reasonable inconvenience under the circumstances of the case. I do not attempt to argue anything about the Bill. I hope I have confined myself solely to the matter of the delay, and under these circumstances I hope the House may be able to support the postponement.


I think my honourable Friend the Member for West Cumberland was perfectly justified in raising the protest which he has this afternoon. It certainly is very inconvenient to those who are not what I think I may call "in the know" to come down time after time expecting Bills to come on, and then to find that the Bill does not come on, or that by some arrangement between the parties the Bill is dropped or postponed to some future date. I think it must be admitted that that is rather an inconvenient practice.




But there are occasions, it seems to me, when that cannot be avoided. I will certainly do what I can to inform my hon- ourable Friend, if he will apply to my office, whenever I know myself that a Bill is not coming on which appears on the Papers for a particular day. I have sometimes opportunities of knowing. With regard to this particular case, I think the honourable Member who has just addressed the House has certainly made out a case for the postponement, and that the circumstances which he has narrated, and which certainly I need not go over again, distinguish this Bill from the case of very many other Bills. The main principle of the Bill depends to a great extent upon what the Commission may report. It is quite true if the Commission reported in one direction or the other, so a large number of Members of this House would be influenced either in one direction or the other on the Second Reading of these Bills. Therefore, I do not know on the whole that we lose very much time in postponing this Bill. But I think it should be distinctly understood that on the 1st June we really should see the last of this Bill, and either pass it or reject it. Of course, it is possible, I quite conceive, that by the 1st June the Commission shall not then have reported, and therefore the honourable Member opposite would be able to make exactly the same speech again as he has made this afternoon as to the desirability of postponement, and his arguments would be just as cogent. But then I think it would really be an improper thing, having reached within two months, for we should be then within a period a little over two months of the end of the Session; and I think by that time, on the 1st of June, we ought really to have disposed of the Second Reading of such an important Bill as this, because it must be remembered there are other parties besides the promoters of this Bill who are much interested. The water companies have been kept month after month in a state of doubt as to whether the House means to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill or not. I may point out to my honourable Friend that one good reason for not proceeding with the Bill to-day is the absence of the opponents. Both the honourable Members whose names are down as opposing this Bill certainly do not expect it to come on, and neither of them is present. I think, under the circumstances, it would certainly be very inadvisable that the House should pro- ceed this afternoon with the consideration of this Measure, but, on the other hand, I think if the Bill is postponed to the 1st June it should be with the distinct understanding that the House disposes of the Bill then, either by passing it or rejecting it. On that understanding I certainly support the honourable Member in postponing it to the 1st of June.


I am sure I shall have the indulgence of the House in order to say that I shall have no choice but to withdraw my opposition to the postponement of the Bill to-day. At the same time, in doing so, I hope that the practice which has grown up, and which causes not only considerable inconvenience, but a large amount of expense, which must fall on the ratepayers and public companies, will not be repeated; and I should like to make the suggestion that in future, when private business is put down by Order for a certain day, it should be taken on that day. I beg to withdraw.

MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

Can we receive the assurance that the Bill, under these circumstances, will not be postponed beyond the 1st of June? It is an extreme inconvenience to those who are interested to the extent of £40,000,000 in this matter to have it hanging over their heads. Can we not receive an assurance from my honourable Friend who represents the London County Council (Mr. Stuart) that they will deal with the matter in one way or the other on the 1st of June?


There is only one word I should like to add. The honourable Member (Mr. Boulnois) has just asked an assurance to be given that the matter shall not be postponed after the 1st of June, and I think what the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Lowther) stated is absolutely the fact, that we shall be put as qua water companies to great expense, and kept in a great state of suspense, unless we are given an assurance that the matter shall be settled, for good or bad, once for all, on the 1st June There is another matter I wish to raise on the speech of the honourable Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart). He stated, what is perfectly true, that the Committee sitting on the Bill of the East London Water Company had postponed their sittings because they seem to have expressed the opinion that we should not proceed with our Bill pending the Report of the Royal Commission. What I wish to impress upon the House is that we are in no way parties to that postponement. I myself look upon it, I was going to say, with consternation, but I will not use so strong a word, but I feel very strongly on this keeping back of the Bill pending the Report of the Royal Commission. I would not allow it to be thought for a moment that the East London Water Company are in any way a party to that postponement.


I feel it will be quite obvious to the House generally why I do not pledge myself to the suggestion that has been made, but it will be quite plain that the arguments I have used to-day for taking this Bill on the 1st of June and the possibility of doing it will be evanescent in their character. I cannot repeat those arguments with effect to the House, because the obvious answer is that we have not time to do it. But if I were to give a distinct pledge at the present moment that on the 1st of June I would take this Bill, whatever happened, it will be obvious that I might be landed in this difficulty—the Commissioners' Report might be out on that day. I say it is a very probable thing, for it is just after the Whitsuntide holidays, and I might be forced to take this Bill on the 1st of June on the pledge that I made to take it on that day. But I may say that I obviously cannot ask the House to continue to postpone the Bill in this way, and I think, not pledging myself, for the reasons I have given, in this matter, and pointing out clearly that I should not be able to give good reasons for a further postponement, with that statement I think the honourable Gentlemen on the other side who have asked the question might fairly be satisfied.

SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

As Chairman of the Committee on the East London Water Bill I would just say a word. I am not going into the merits of the question before the Committee, but the honourable and gallant Gentleman opposite has hardly made a correct statement of what occurred in that Committee. The Committee expressed their view of the difficulties they were in with regard to the question of dealing with the Bill in the face of the Commission sitting, and at the request of the counsel for the company we adjourned until Monday week, and I reported that to the House in due course.


Not at the request of my company; after the expression of the opinion of the Committee it was adjourned.


The Committee had not adjourned till after the request of the counsel for the Company.

The Motion to adjourn the Second Reading of the Bill was then agreed to without a Division.