HC Deb 23 March 1899 vol 69 cc113-23

Order for Second Reading read.

SIR J. BAKER (Portsmouth)

Sir, I desire not to let this Bill go to a Committee of the House without some explanation. It is one of the very simplest of water Bills. It applies to a district containing 18,000 inhabitants, and which has doubled its population in. 18 years. The company itself was established some 18 years since, and was simply for the purpose of providing for a great want in the neighbourhood. As a proof of that, I may mention that the shareholders for the greater part of the time have only received 3 per cent. for their investments, and have never received more than 4 per cent., and they have been moved to promote this Bill, first, by the pressure of the local authorities,. and, secondly, by the serious requirements of the military and civil service in connection with the camps at Bisley and Pirbright, the barracks and the Brookwood Asylum. I understand they are all pressing the company to promote this Bill. The difficulty which arose with the Guildford Corporation, I have been assured, and I have seen the documents, has been settled satisfactorily in this form, that if the Bill is allowed to go into Committee the terms upon which that settlement was arrived at will be continued in Committee. I understand the London County Council raises a rather stale objection—that is, the impossibility of allowing any further supply to be taken from the Thames. But the fact is that Woking has, as it were, a natural right to the water by reason of its position on the river Wey.


No ‡


Yes; it has been confirmed again and again in Acts of Parliament, that the locality has the right to the water in its own rivers: and, that being the fact, the only circumstance which could possibly arise would be that the water would be so low as not to give the supply which London has the right to possess. But the quantity of 1,000,000 gallons a day which is permitted to be taken by the company is so fractional, as against the 185,000,000 gallons which pass over the weir, that I can conceive that no opposition on the ground of the scarcity of water can arise. I trust, with these explanations, that the honourable Member (Mr. Sydney Buxton) who has put down a notice that, I understand, rejects the Bill on behalf of the London County Council will not be able to influence the House by it. Surely the Surrey County-Council have a right to be heard upon such a question as the sending of a Bill of this character before a Committee, and they are unanimous on the point. All the local authorities are unanimous, the Government authorities are pressing upon this matter, and, as a proof that they are right in pressing it, I may say that last summer water had to be taken to the camps by tanks. Such a thing ought not to be in connection with a great public institution, and if this Bill is jeopardised, that scarcity will continue. I trust the Opposition will be withdrawn, and that this Bill may be allowed to go to a Second Reading.


I should not have risen after the speech made by the honourable Gentleman opposite, but I am bound to point out that this Bill has been brought forward under very exceptional circumstances. Of course, everybody will understand from what has fallen from the honourable Member that the large and growing population of Woking desires a proper supply of water, and no one, I am sure, in any part of the House would desire to stand between the population of Woking and a public improvement of that character. But I must point out that the whole course of this Bill has been exceptional from start to finish. In the first place, it is brought forward—by whom? By the honourable Gentleman opposite, who is an able advocate for the Bill, but who, I think, has no local connection whatever with Woking or with that part of the country. And the other name upon the Bill is that of my honourable Friend behind me (Mr. Cohen), who is equally unconnected with that part which he is desirous of benefiting, while my honourable Friend the Member for the Division is, I think, not even in his place. Yes, I see he is in his place, but his name is not on the back of the Bill. That is an exceptional state of facts. Looking to the course of the Bill, and as it stands before the House at this moment, I am, of course, bound to confine my observations to questions of principle. I do not desire to go into detail, but I must point out that the Bill as brought before the House is absolutely different from the Bill as it is to go to the Committee. The Bill as brought before the House contemplates in some dozen paragraphs different sources of supply for Woking, and in the course of negotiation two-thirds of those sources have been abandoned. Something like a compromise has been come to, and as to the water proposed to be taken from the Thames about one-third of the original proposal remains. It is proposed that the town of Guildford, which is in my constituency, an urban district containing 20,000 people, should supply Woking six miles off from wells, one of which is within 250 yards of the borough boundary, and the other is actually inside the boundary of the borough, and inside the area which Guildford is bound to supply. As it is put before us at this moment, we are in this position—owing probably to sufficient causes—the other proposal which Woking has made, firstly, to take water from the Tilling-bourne, several miles distant, and then the water of private owners who had supplied themselves after Woking had refused to supply them; both had to be abandoned. In reference to the opposition of London, and the source of supply from the Thames to a large extent being a very limited number of gallons, I will not venture to give the House any opinion upon, but I think it is obviously one to be decided, not outside, but in Committee. Having done all that, they come to the borough of Guildford and take from inside the borough the sources of supply upon which the borough is dependent, and I confess if it had not been for the observations of the honourable Member (Sir John Baker), who states that at the last moment in the course of this morning the undertakers have consented to put a clause into the Bill limiting to 500,000 gallons a day what they will take from Guildford, and, therefore, at all events, justifying to some extent their right to a Second Reading and a discussion in Committee upstairs, I should have been bound to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. I shall be glad not to take that course, but I must point out, in the interest of Bills that go to Committee in this House, that the House is not put in a proper position if wild-cat schemes are started, branching out in every direction, asking for powers which may or may not be necessary, which obviously are not well considered, after two-thirds of the scheme has been knocked out, the House is asked blindfold to send a Bill to Committee which is a totally different Bill from that which is actually lying on the Table of the House. In addition to that, when a Measure comes forward without the support of the Member for the Division, or of local Members, but is in the hands of Gentlemen who may have an interest or no interest in the neighbourhood, but who have an interest in the Company which proposes to take the water, I think this House is placed in a very awkward situation. I shall not myself move the rejection of the Bill after what has fallen from the honourable Gentleman, but I still entertain the strongest feelings that the House has not been properly treated, and that the neighbourhood has been very badly treated. I trust that upstairs these points will be considered, and that the necessary supply for Woking will be obtained, not from the points where there is least resistance, which is the present position, but including the Thames, if necessary, from which a larger supply can be afforded.

* MR. LEGH-BENNETT (Surrey, Chertsey)

As my right honourable Friend (Mr. Brodrick) was at first under the impression that the Member for Woking was not in. his place, and subsequently remarked upon the fact that the name of the Member for Chertsey was not on the back of the Bill, I feel compelled to ask the House to let me make a few remarks. In the first place the Division which I have the honour to represent covers a very much larger area than the area which the Woking Water Company are entitled to supply water to, and there are proposals in this Bill which militate against the interests of other parts of that Division: consequently it will be readily understood how it is that my name is not on the back of this Bill. At the same time I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill, not in the interests of the company, but in the interests of my constituents. The district of the Woking Water Company is a curious one in respect of its water supply. A great portion of that part of Surrey contains what is known as the Bagshot formation, which is very ill provided with spring water, and such water as is there is for the most part very unsuitable for domestic purposes, partly because it is tainted with iron and partly because the substratum is bog. Consequently, in the greater part of the district, which is one of increasing population, the water supply must necessarily be provided by public methods of some sort or another. Now, the parish of Woking is one which it is well known has been growing with great rapidity. In the year 1891 the population of Woking was 9,776; it is now estimated at over 15,000. In 1891 the rateable value of Woking parish, which extends over nearly 9,000 acres, was £52,000; the rateable value is now £83,306. These figures, I think, are sufficient to show how rapidly this district has increased. The Woking Water Company have, of course, a monopoly there under their Act. They have to supply not only Woking, but also Merrow, which is a suburb of the borough whose interests my right honourable Friend has been so carefully guarding, and although that suburb of Guildford is in my Division and not in his, I am sure he would be willing to study the interests of the inhabitants of that place even though he is not able to secure their votes. But, Sir, there are other interests besides the interests of this parish of Woking which are of importance. There is the large Surrey Lunatic Asylum at Brookwood, which has been suffering from a want of water for a considerable time; there is the barracks; there are the National Rifle Association meetings at Bisley, where they hold their meeting in July, and there is the Guards' Camp at Pirbright, all of which require a water supply. What is the fact. Last year the whole of the arrangements of the Woking Water Company absolutely broke down. There were indignation meetings on the part of Merrow complaining of the water company. I believe that Woking itself suffered very severely from want of water. The National Rifle Association had very nearly to give up their rifle competition because they had the greatest difficulty in getting supplied, and the way in which they were eventually supplied was by having the water brought down in railway tanks from Waterloo Station. There is another point which I desire to bring forward, and that is that the Local Government Board have lately consented to this large and rapidly growing parish of Woking having a system of drainage for itself. That drainage, I understand, will be put partly into working within three months from now. The district which has to be drained is a flat one, and it will be necessary to provide a large additional amount of water to that which is now used for the purpose of flushing the sewers. Not only that, but at the present time, owing to the want of a sewerage system, the sanitary arrangements around Woking Station are carried on on the earth system, and directly you have a system of sewers of course connections will be made and the earth system will be turned into a system of water. In that way, apart entirely from the fact that the population is growing very rapidly, the sanitary necessities of the place will be very greatly increased. I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill, reserving entirely to myself any opportunity that may be given to me of expressing an opinion on other places from which a water supply may be obtained or which may be disturbed. Those, I conceive, are matters for Committee and not for Second Reading. I am aware that there are some matters connected with those points which require to be very carefully watched, and I hope with others to watch them with proper care; but at the same time it does seem to me that it is very difficult to find an argument by which a Bill of this sort, which is promoted not in the interests of investors, not in the interests of speculators, but in the interests of the inhabitants of a district which has already suffered from a water famine—it is difficult, I say, to conceive how any valid objections can be raised to the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I put down a notice in opposition to this Bill on the ground that it would have very seriously interfered, if the original proposal had been carried out, with the natural duties of the London County Council in other parts of London and close to London. My objection on that ground has now been taken away because this company have agreed not to sink their wells or carry their pipes across the particular district in question. But I am bound to say that that only raises in my mind a further objection to this Bill, which I take it should receive the very serious consideration of the House, and it is one on which I should like to have the opinion of the right honourable Gentle- man the Chairman of Ways and Means. Because we had a Bill introduced to start with as necessary—and I entirely agree with what fell from the honourable Gentleman opposite who has just spoken, on that question—I do not think for one moment that the extension of the water works of the Woking Company is as great as is necessary for local requirements. To that we are all agreed, and there is no objection to the Bill on that ground. But I should like the House to consider the way in which the Bill has been introduced, and I should like to direct the attention of the right honourable Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means to it, for the good order and consideration of this House in Private Bills and Private Procedure. This Bill as it was introduced into this House proposed to sink in certain parts of Surrey four or five wells, and it is proposed to take at certain parts of the day three million gallons from the Thames; and the Bill, as it now stands, and the Second Reading of which we are now asked to pass, is a different Bill. The three million gallons have been reduced to one million, and in addition to that the Thames Conservancy, very rightly I think, have insisted that this company shall not sell any water from its wells——

SIR F. DIXON-HARTLANB (Middlesex, Uxbridge)

It is not reduced to one million; it is one million without restriction, and the other two millions to be taken when a certain amount goes over the weir.


That is one reason why they have reduced their demands. At all events, the company have abandoned three of their proposed pumping stations, and reduced the capacity of the remaining one to 500,000 gallons a day. The House is thus put in this position, that a private and speculative company, whose object is to make a profit for their shareholders, and who have been roving about the beautiful Surrey Downs endeavouring to find pumping stations on which they could erect hideous pipes spoiling the scenery, have come asking for powers greater than they are about to take. The House is entitled to know where it stands, and if my right honourable Friend (Mr. Brodrick) is willing to divide against the Bill I will certainly support him. It is not right that notice should be given of one Bill, and that by a private arrangement the House on Second Reading should be asked to pass one totally different.

* MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

I should like to assure the House that, although my name is on the back of the Bill, I have no pecuniary interest in the company; but I hope the House will pass the Bill, which is calculated to obviate possible frightful sufferings from scarcity in a district which is growing daily. The company cannot be justly described as a speculative one, as suggested by the honourable Member opposite. It has never paid a larger dividend than four per cent. on its capital, and for a great many years it paid no dividend whatever. My right honourable Friend described it as a speculative company.


So it is.


At any rate, it is not a favourably speculative company. It is only when companies are successful that they are considered mischievous by some Members in this House. I don't think the House should reject this Bill when the districts are daily thirsting for water, and especially for the remarkable reason given by my right honourable Friend (Mr. Brodrick)—namely, that the promoters have removed every possible objection to it.

MR. CUBITT (Surrey, Reigate)

I should like to say that the promoters have withdrawn from the Bill the points on which my opposition to it was based, and I think after the strong protest which has been made the House might very well allow the Bill to go to the Committee upstairs.


The honourable Gentleman opposite (Mr. Buxton) said he was going to put to me a question; but I am afraid I have been quite unable to understand what the particular question was. He appears, however, to take exception to the whole Bill, because, as originally introduced, it provided a variety of sources of supply. But the promoters of the Bill found that objection was taken to a certain number of sources being utilised, and they are going to strike out of the Bill those sources of supply. Then, said the honourable Member, because the promoters are reasonable, and were going to strike out certain sources of supply, the whole of the Bill ought to be rejected.


No. The object of my statement was that they should withdraw the Bill and introduce it in the form in which they intend the House to accept it. The Bill is so utterly different to what it was at first.


That would mean the loss of a whole year. This Bill, as we have heard from those who are acquainted with it, is really of great importance, and I am sure that if the honourable Member for Guildford had still held office as Secretary to the War Office he would have been one of the loudest in his demands that the Bill should be instantly passed, because it is introduced chiefly in the interests and because of the increase of troops that go to Pirbright and Bisley Camp. That being so, I think we may say that "All is well that ends well." We know pretty accurately what it is the company are asking for. At all events, if the Bill goes before the Committee upstairs they will be most definitely informed of the exact proposals that are being made by the company—proposals that are supported by the neighbourhood and those on behalf of whom they are made, and under these circumstances I would beg the honourable Member not to press his opposition.


I should like to be allowed to say a word about the Thames Conservancy, as their action has been referred to in the discussion. The Conservators have examined into matters most carefully, and thought that the people living on the banks of the river had a perfect right to some of its water, and so they have agreed with the company. Under the agreement, it is true, as pointed out by the Member for Poplar (Mr. Buxton), they have agreed to take only one million gallons a day; but that is only because the flow over Teddington Weir was last year 200,000 gallons per day. The flow is very rarely as low as that, and the result is that the company will, as a rule, be able to take three million gallons per day from the Thames. That seems a reasonable arrangement, and the Thames Conservancy, therefore, accept it, and are quite prepared to agree to the conditions of the Bill.

Bill read a second time, and committed.