HC Deb 29 March 1900 vol 81 cc629-71

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [22nd March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed. Debate resumed.

MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

When, on a previous occasion, I had to move the Second Reading of a Bill similar to this, the main object of my remarks was to establish the points that purchase was a good thing, that it was desirable, in the interests of the public, that there should be purchase by some public authority, and that the exigencies of the future supply of water to London would be best met by placing the various water undertakings in the hands of some public authority. But these points no longer need to be argued. A Royal Commission was established especially for the purpose of deciding, among other things, whether control or purchase was the right method of procedure in this matter, and it has undoubtedly reported With unanimity in favour of the purchase of the London water companies' undertakings by some public authority. I cannot but be glad that that contest, which lasted so many years, has been decided by so great an authority in the direction in which, on behalf of the London County Council, I urged in this House five years ago that it should be decided. I see it is stated by the opponents of the Bill that the measure which I have before the House now has been repeatedly brought forward. But, although in the year 1897 I did bring in a measure on somewhat similar lines, I would beg the House to remember that it differed in one or two important details from the Act Of 1895, and that the first act of the present House was to reverse the decision taken in the previous session. I would also point out to hon. Gentlemen that the basis of the rejection of the Bill was that there had not been a sufficiently authoritative pronouncement upon the point whether the proper method of dealing with the London water companies was by control or purchase. That was the statement made by the President of the Local Government Board, who, speaking at the time on behalf of the Government, further indicated that his personal predilection was in the direction of control. The right hon. Gentleman said that a Commission ought to be appointed to set at rest that question. The Commission was accordingly appointed, and it has decided the point, and I think that the body which has hitherto promoted these Bills is only doing its duty in calling upon this House to supplement to the best of its ability the decision of that Royal Commission. It may be asked, Why not wait until next year? But I would remind the House that in 1895 I urged that the solution of the water question by purchase was urgent and pressing. Everything that has happened since, that date has, I believe, shown the propriety of that statement, and that has occurred which I then suggested was likely to take place. Enormous extra concessions have been given to the various water companies. They have conferred upon those companies valuable assets which, if purchase had been carried out at the date I first brought it before the House, would have accrued in the hands of the public, and would not have had to be re-purchased from the companies to whom they had been given. I believe these concessions represent an amount not very short of one-third of the whole existing capital of the companies, and additions are still being made in that direction. Even in the present session of Parliament we have passed the Second Reading of two Bills, which add very considerable additional amounts to the capital of the companies promoting them, and at a litter stage of to-day's proceedings we shall be called upon to consider a Bill which proposes to give a very great asset to the companies in the shape of power to draw an almost unlimited supply of water from the river Thames. We have had, in the case of almost every Bill, to contend for the maintenance of what is called a sinking fund. At great expense to the ratepayers of London, we have had to secure the insertion of such a provision in the various Bills. We have also had to get inserted in several of the Bills a clause stating that the concession granted would not in the event of purchase be liable to be treated as a valuable asset of the company. But both these provisions have been omitted from, the Bills we have before us this session, and we stand in jeopardy also of losing the power we already possess to prevent a valuable asset being a charge against us in the event of purchase. The clause providing that a concession granted to a company should not be reckoned as an asset which we were to purchase, was practically first introduced in the Staines Reservoir Bill of 1896, being copied from an older Bill of little importance. How did that clause come to be introduced? In 1896, when our Purchase Bills were rejected, we complained that Bills were being passed giving the companies large concessions, and the President of the Local Government Board met us very fairly, and secured the adoption of an Instruction to the Committee, to the effect that they should not make a greater amount of concession than was necessary for the immediate requirements of the case. When we came to discuss the Staines Reservoir scheme, which gave large additional powers over the Thames to the companies, it was perfectly obvious to the Committee that a portion of a reservoir could not be constructed, and that it would be necessary, if the scheme were passed at all, to pass it as a whole. We adopted this plan to meet the spirit, if not the letter of the right hon. Gentleman's Instruction. We passed the scheme, but we also inserted a clause to the effect that in the event of purchase the concession should not be reckoned as an asset of the companies for which we were to pay. The clause has since been adopted in other Bills. At that time, we anticipated that the question of purchase would be settled in a short time, and, accordingly, we anticipated that the clause would remain in operation for seven years. It will, therefore, cease to exist in 1903, and unless the purchase of the companies' undertakings is carried out before that year, the object and intention of the clause, as well as of the Instruction of the House upon which it was framed, will be frustrated. I wish to point out the extreme importance of this. If the Bill is passed this year it cannot become law till towards the end of the year, and a whole series of arbitrations will have to be completed before the period I have indicated. If you defer it until next year—and in this connection we must not forget the imminence of a General Election—there is great danger that the purchase scheme will be so delayed that humanly speaking it will be impossible to complete the arbitrations in time. This clause would then cease to be operative, and the concessions would become a valuable asset of the companies. Is it not, therefore, our duty to urge the House to pass these Purchase Bills immediately? We are aware of the great loss which must be caused to the ratepayers of London if we do not pass the Purchase Bills in the present session. I am prepared to make concessions under those circumstances. The Government are already in possession of what practically these points amount to. In the Bill, apart from the great governing question of purchase, there have been certain differences of opinion on particular clauses. In the first place there is the clause which suggests that we should be free to separate the water supply in its sources as well as in the bulk to supply the outside areas. That separation was not part of our policy, and it is an endeavour on our part to meet the outside areas. If that is not successful in meeting their views, and if it is the desire of the House that that clause should be modified, we are perfectly prepared to do so. The second is the arbitration clause. We submit that under the circumstances in which we brought in our Bill a few years ago it was necessary to instruct the arbitrator on different points, but much has happened since then. These points have been brought before the Royal Commission and the public, and I am free to say that if we can get our Bill this session, and if purchase can be secured this session, we will be willing to accept an arbitration clause which is not in our opinion as good as we could wish. That is to say, we shall be prepared to accept the arbitration clause shadowed by the Royal Commission on the lines of the Land Clauses Act, with a special arbitration tribunal, and the omission of a solatium for compulsory purchase. That is a distinct endeavour on our part to meet the situation in order to secure purchase this year, but if the Bill is not passed this session then the quid pro quo under which we offer these concessions would not be obtainable by and by. Now I come to the question of the authority. I admit at once that the Royal Commission has said that it did not approve of the London County Council as the authority for management. [Cheers.] That meets with the response which is naturally to be expected from hon. Members on the other side of the House, because it is in accordance with the views which they have quite consistently held. I do not object to their position in the matter at all, but I say that we are perfectly prepared to meet the wishes of the House generally, and of all concerned. So anxious are we to secure purchase this year by some public authority and set the question at rest, that we are prepared to purchase in trust for any authority that may be created, and we will reserve to ourselves no more right in connection with that authority than the right every hon. Member has of dealing with any measure coming before the House. The House will at any rate see that I am dealing frankly with the points at issue. I go further. This Bill was drafted in view of what the Royal Commission might possibly report. We were not aware what it would report, but we had to bear the Report in mind. Let me call the attention of the House to Clause 24, because I do not think that much attention has been paid to it. It states that the Council shall appoint for the management of the water supply a committee which may comprise as members persons not being members of the Council, and that the Council shall delegate absolutely to such committee any power with reference to the management and administration of the water supply. If that managing body be not capable of giving satisfaction to all concerned, then any persons concerned or the Government will be free to introduce a measure to substitute another authority; and as regards such a measure we reserve only the power which every hon. Member possesses in respect of any measure for which the approval of the House is asked. Under Clause 25 of this Bill we actually empower urban councils and urban and rural district councils which may he concerned to introduce a Bill for altering or amending this Act in so far as it relates to the constitution of the authority to manage the water supply of the metropolis, and we also empower these bodies to act if they choose as petitioners against any such Bill, the clause stating, "it I being the intention of this Act not to prejudice any such question." It is very difficult, after what I have now said, for any hon. Member to state, as has been stated in the circulars which have been issued, that this Bill is absolutely opposed to every recommendation of the Royal Commission. It is not so. I have shown our willingness and desire to amend the measure, provided we can secure its passage this session. I have shown that, although the County Council would be the purchasing body, another body would afterwards be the managing body. There is nothing in the Report of the Royal Commission against that position of affairs. It was not as a purchasing body that the Royal Commission made any objection to the County Council; it was to it as the body to control the supply after purchase was effected. There is a great point in that, because I am strongly of opinion that whatever body you choose ultimately to create to control and manage the water supply it will have to have recourse in the first instance to the London County Council to effect the purchase. [An HON. MEMBER: Why?] The reason is that, in order to effectually carry through a purchase arbitration and the long negotiations connected with it, you must have some body which thoroughly understands the case. If you create a new body, it will have to spend years in securing for itself the necessary information, and also in securing officers acquainted with the subject to carry through the purchase. We have these officers in the London County Council, and therefore you will delay purchase indefinitely if you create an authority to purchase as well as to manage. There have been great difficulties in the way of creating an authority for managing the water supply of London, but a large portion of these difficulties arose from the water companies themselves, and if these companies were out of the way and satisfied, I believe, although it would be difficult, it would, at any rate, at least be possible to construct an authority capable of managing the London water supply. I have given reasons for the immediate passing of this Bill, and I have indicated the concessions which under these circumstances we should be prepared to make. I hope I have not detained the House too long. The measure is intricate, but is yet framed on such large lines that if they be steadily adhered to it will not be difficult for the House to arrive at a decision. I thank hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House for their patient and kindly attention. Even the hon. Members who differ from me respect, I hope, my views as I respect their views. In conclusion, I move the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

My hon. friend has made an ingenious and interesting speech, but I think the bulk of his arguments has been directed to support a Bill which is not yet drafted. He has not said much about the London Water Purchase Bill which is now before us, but he said a great deal in favour of a purely hypothetical Bill. What is the real principle of the Bill now before the House? It is that the London County Council should be the purchaser of the water undertakings of the eight London water companies, and that after purchase the Council should remain the owner and work the business within its own area, but that with regard to outside areas the Council should transfer the property and working of the undertakings to different local authorities. That is an inseparable part of the policy which the London County Council has always adopted in connection with these Bills. May I ask the House to recall how during this Parliament the House of Commons has treated Bills dealing with the London water question on these lines? In 1896 the first Bill based on these lines was brought in and was rejected on Second Beading by a majority of 162. In 1897 a similar Bill was introduced and its Second Reading was defeated by a majority of 135. In that year the Government promised that they would appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question, and in May of that year the Commission was appointed. The London County Council recognised the futility of proceeding with these Bills pending the Report of the Royal Commission, and in 1898 no Bill was introduced. In the summer of 1898 there unfortunately occurred a scarcity of water in the East End of London, and impelled by that fact—I do not complain of its action—the County Council very naturally introduced two Bills dealing with this question—the London Water Purchase Bill and the Welsh Supply Bill. What happened? When the Welsh Supply Bill came on for Second Reading it was met by an Amendment, that the House thought it was undesirable to deal with it until the Royal Commission had reported, and that Amendment was carried by a considerable majority. The London Water Purchase Bill was postponed from time to time, and ultimately withdrawn. The House of Commons, then, has always treated the policy of the London County Council in this way. It has absolutely refused to sanction their main policy of purchase of the water companies' undertakings, and at the same time it has attached great weight to the appointment of a Royal Commission, and had practically declared, that when the Report of the Royal Commission was presented to the House it would attach very commanding weight to its recommendations. Well, the Royal Commission was appointed in 1897. It was composed of men of all views, men of great distinction in many walks of life. Its proceedings were protracted, some said too protracted. The Commission certainly made a very exhaustive inquiry, and ultimately reported at the beginning, of this year. Their report was a unanimous report; and I think everybody who has studied it will agree—I know that the leaders of the Progressive party in the London County Council admit it—that the Report is a singularly clear and able document. How does that Report deal with what is, after all, the main principles of the Bill we have got to consider to-day as regards purchase by the London County Council, and subsequent severance? It says— Inasmuch, therefore, as all the metropolitan counties except Hertfordshire, are bent on demanding what the London County Council are pledged to concede, we think that a purchase by the London County Council of the water undertakings must necessarily be followed by that severance and division of the works of supply and distribution into five distinct portions, which appears to us open to so much objection as to be practically inadmissible. On this ground, among others, we have come to the conclusion that the London County Council shall not be the purchaser. On the first and main point of this Bill, therefore, the Royal Commission has clearly and decisively reported against it, as also on the second point in regard to severance. And then the Commission went on to report in favour of the constitution of a definite new authority which should be the purchasing authority, and afterwards the distributing authority. I think I ought to quote the exact words— We think the Water Board shall be a permanent, and not a fluctuating body—consisting of not more than thirty members, selected on account of their business capacity, and, if possible, their knowledge of matters connected with water supply; and so constituted as not to give a preponderance to any of the conflicting interests concerned. We think that the size and importance of the area to be dealt with takes the duties out of the category of purely municipal or local functions, and makes them a matter as much of national as of local concern. That conclusion of the Royal Commission seems to be absolutely adverse to the contention of the promoters of this Bill—that the London County Council should be in any way the purchasing or the distributing authority outside the area of the London County Council; and therefore it is absolutely conclusive against the Second Reading of this Bill. I gathered from the speech of my hon. friend the Member for Hoxton, that he wishes to come to the House in a spirit of sweet reasonableness and ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, and let it be completely transformed by a Select Committee upstairs. In effect he says, Let the Select Committee eviscerate the Bill, and then reviscerate it; in fact, turn it into a totally different Bill. I do not know whether that is in accordance with the practice of this House. I doubt very much whether a second reading has ever been given to any Bill on the express ground that it is to be essentially and entirely altered in Committee. What security have we that the Select Committee will transform the Bill in the way which my hon. friend desires, or we desire? At any rate, I put it to the House that this is a matter of too great importance to be referred wholly to a Select Committee. The future supply of water to London and the surrounding districts is a matter that ought to be dealt with at the outset by the House itself, and I do not think that in a matter of this kind, so fraught with difficulties, that we ought to trust a Select Committee to transform the Bill in every particular. My hon. friend asks the House to refer this Bill to a Select Committee owing to the extreme urgency of the question. I demur to that. I put it to the House that there can be no question that a year's delay will make no practical difference. As to the sufficiency of water, it will be remembered that last year was the most stringent test of the capacity of the water companies to provide an adequate water supply. Last summer and autumn were the driest we have almost ever had, following, as they did, a succession of dry seasons, and yet happily not a district of London suffered in any degree at all. We must remember that the companies have added largely to their capacity for giving a full supply by means of the communication of one system with another. Therefore, I do not think there is the least danger that next year or the year after there will be a scarcity at all, even if we had a drought. As regards the money question, this is how it occurs to me. Supposing that in the interval, before a settlement is reached, the water companies add to their capital, and that the quinquennial valuation increased their assessment, the purchasing authority would obtain an increased value for the increased price, as the charges on the water rates would also be raised in future. And if the companies increase their storage reservoirs, that increase will be available for the future water authority, and there is therefore no urgent necessity for purchasing this year. Hon. friends here and elsewhere who oppose this Bill have been rather bitterly assailed on the ground that we are delaying the ultimate settlement of this question, that we are more or less interested in the water companies, and are trying to prevent the water consumers from getting that kind of settlement which they ought to have. For myself, I absolutely repudiate the desire to interpose any unnecessary delay in the settlement of this question. The London water question has been too long a matter for politicians, too long has it inflamed the passions of the London County Council; too long has it led to the embarrassment of the water companies; too long has it prevented the water companies from getting the facilities which they ought to have got; and all of us have come to the conclusion that we should have a final settlement. I certainly would have preferred that there should have been an amalgamation of the companies, rather than the creation of a new public authority; but I accept the Report of the Commission. I admit the force of the argument which the Commission bring forward when they say that amalgamation is impossible, and that it is indispensable in the public interest that there should be only one authority in the future. I waive my private view of the matter, and so do many others; and I am perfectly certain that there is a general inclination in men's minds in London to accept the Report of the Commission. It only remains for the Progressives in the London County Council to imitate us, and to abandon their preconceived views, and join with us all in making the Report of the Royal Commission the basis of a final settlement. The Government appointed that Commission, whose Report has met with an almost unanimity of approval, and I cannot doubt but that the Government will, as soon as practical, give effect to the main recommendations of the Commission. It is with that firm and strong hope that I now beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

In seconding the Amendment of my hon. friend, I need only say a few words, as he has practically exhausted all the arguments that can be advanced, My hon. friend opposite—whose moderation in stating his views contrasts very materially with the tone of some of those who agree with him—has not done us the favour of recognising that though we had consistently always opposed the policy of the London County Council, and disagreed with some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, yet we now feel it to be the duty of all interested in this question to accept the weighty judgment contained in the unanimous Report of the Royal Commission. In the interests of speedy and final settlement of this question, which has been kept open for too great a period, this House would not be justified in sanctioning a Bill which flies in the teeth of every one of the recommendations of one of the strongest Royal Commissions ever appointed.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Whitmore.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I desire to recognise fully the very conciliatory tone of hon. Members opposite in the speeches which have just been delivered. I quite agree that this question should be taken altogether out of the domain of party politics, which has been far too long an element in it. In the very few observations which I shall trouble the House with, I shall endeavour, as far as I can, to see how far we are agreed, and to see if, even at this hour, we cannot come to some conclusion which will really help us to arrive at a solution of this difficult question. My hon. friend based his opposition to this Bill not so much upon a question of principle, and my hon. friend behind me has suggested that we should regard the objections made as matters which a Committee upstairs might meet by making alterations. As regards private Bills that is very often done, and in regard to this Bill the Royal Commission did not report until the end of December, and it was essential for the County Council to draft and print the Bills and to give notice of them long before that date. It was, therefore, impossible for the County Council to alter the Bill in the direction indicated by my hon. friend behind me before it came to this House for consideration. Speaking for myself and for my hon. friends behind me, I agree that the County Council are practically prepared generally to accept the view of the Royal Commission, to which allusion has been made, and also to accept the conclusions in general terms to which they have come. They desire that the principle of the Bill—which is purchase—should go upstairs to the Committee, which would then be able to alter it in the direction indicated. May I point out that in this matter, apart from questions of detail, there are really only three matters of primary importance involved in this question. One is the principle of purchase; the second is the basis upon which that purchase can be carried out; and the third is what authority shall be constituted in order to carry out the administration of the water companies of London after purchase. I do not think I need detain the House upon the principle of purchase, for that is a principle to which not only Members on this side of the House, but also many hon. Members on the opposite side, have given their assent, and the principle of purchase is practically accepted on both sides of the House. Therefore, I need not detain the House by discussing the principle of purchase. It simply means that some public authority should purchase the water companies' undertakings at a fair price. That was the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman in 1897 when I introduced a Water Bill on behalf of the County Council. The chief reason why that measure was thrown out was that the principle of purchase was not altogether agreed to, and the right hon. Gentleman said he wished to have a Royal Commission to consider it. That Commission have now finally decided that question. There was a further question which I think had some effect upon the fortunes of the Bill of 1897—I allude to the difference of opinion as to how the arbitrator should arrive at a fair price. With regard to this matter there was a considerable difference between the proposals of the County Council and those proposed by the water companies. Naturally the companies wanted the best price they could get, and the County Council wanted them at the lowest price. That was only natural, but the real difference of opinion was whether the Lands Clauses Act should be applied in its entirety to the purchase, or whether there should be some Amendment or alteration in regard to the matter. As I understand the Report of the Royal Commission, they have, in terms, accepted the principle of the Lands Clauses Act, but they admit, practically, that the Lands Clauses Act, as commonly carried out, would not enable the arbitrator to give a fair price for these concerns. The Commission decided that the requirements of London ought to be taken into account, and also the fact that the undertakings would be less profitable in the future than in the past. The right hon. Gentleman accepted the clause proposed by the County Council in regard to this matter, in which they suggested that everything should be taken into account either to the advantage or the disadvantage of either party. The Commission have come to the conclusion that some special tribunal will have to be created in order to deal with this large question, and that the Lands Clauses Act will have to be applied under special conditions and limitations. I think that question, which divided us so very much a year or two ago, has now been practically settled. The third point to which the Member for Chelsea took exception is the question as to who should be the pur- chasing authority. He said the Commission had distinctly recommended that the London County Council should not be the purchasing authority. That is not the conclusion which I have come to in reading the Report of the Commission. It is true that the Commission say that they do not think the County Council ought to be the purchasing body, but they mean the administrative authority where they mention the County Council. Practically the argument is that the County Council ought not to be the purchasing authority, because they are in favour of severance and of going to Wales for a water supply for London. Those are the two principal reasons they give against the County Council being the purchasing authority. Their objections, therefore, are not really in connection with the actual matter of purchase itself, but as to the authority after purchase is completed, and I do not find any where in the Report any disposition on the part of the Commissioners objecting to the County Council merely as the purchasing authority. I think my hon. friend satisfied the House that the County Council were not at all unreasonable in this matter. Anticipating to a certain extent the Report of the Royal Commission, the County Council inserted clauses which would enable not only the Committee upstairs so to alter the Bill as to create a fresh authority, but also to enable the Committee so to limit the authority of the County Council as to prevent them becoming the administering body apart from the purchasing body, and while enabling them to purchase, to prevent the County Council actually administering the concerns. This would practically leave in the hands of the Government and the House the fullest and freest possible liberty to deal with this question of authority at some future time if they so desired. The County Council for the time being would be merely the agent for any authority which might be subsequently introduced. It is because of this limitation, and because they do not commit the House to the County Council as the authority in the future, that I for one supported the Bill on the first occasion. I support the Bill, because I think the facts alluded to in regard to the matter of urgency are of very extreme importance indeed. My hon. friend the Member for Chelsea said he did not wish to delay the Bill or the settling of this matter, but a year's delay at the present moment in regard to purchase may involve several years delay in bringing the matter to a definite conclusion. The Royal Commission themselves say that these large questions of future expenditure which must be undertaken ought not to be undertaken by these companies as private bodies, and this means that they should be undertaken by some authority after purchase has been completed. In regard to this expenditure the Report of the Commission says there ought not to be any undue delay in undertaking the great works contemplated. My hon. friend alluded to the Sterilisation Clause, which is a matter of very considerable importance. He pointed out that in the Staines Reservoir Act and other Acts there are clauses which provide that the expenditure authorised by this House shall not go to the pecuniary advantage in case of purchase of the existing company, and when that proviso comes to an end in 1903, it is quite clear that that clause will disappear and the ratepayers will have to pay an enhanced price for the undertaking. The Bill ought to come into force at an early date, more especially because the quinquennial valuation next year will add very largely to the capital value of the companies' undertakings. It is perfectly true that the purchasing authority will get the increased income, and that increase in the value of the water companies will increase the capital sum which will have to be paid for them. I can only say, in conclusion, that the very conciliatory speeches of hon. Members opposite will, I think, assist the County Council in arriving at a fair basis of purchase, and the speech of the hon. Member for Chelsea has given me some hope that the Government may see their way to accept this Bill. I am very interested to know what the attitude of the Government will be with regard to this matter. They have now been in office for five years, and the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have given repeated pledges, both at the last election and since, that they would deal with this matter, but they have done absolutely nothing towards arriving at a solution of this question. They introduced a Bill in 1896 which was withdrawn, and in 1897 they introduced and passed a Bill which the Commission themselves say was perfectly futile either to the consumers or anybody else. Last year they introduced a Bill to enable a slight amount of water to be acquired by one company from another, and that is a Bill which has been shown to be practically futile, because the companies interested have been compelled this year to come down to the House for further powers to deal with this matter. Certainly, when the right hon. Gentleman appointed the Commission, over three years ago, his argument was that in the condition of affairs then he could not do anything. Now he is in possession of a Report in favour of purchase, in favour of a public authority, and in favour of a fair price being given, subject to the general principles of the Land Clauses Act. These are matters on which, in the past, we have had disputes, but there is now no real matter of dispute between us in principle. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman may, even at the eleventh hour, deal with this grave and most difficult question, and do something to redeem the pledges given to us.


I wish to acknowledge the extremely conciliatory spirit in which the hon. Member for Hoxton addressed himself to this question, and the way in which it was reciprocated by my hon. friend behind me. In fact, I think, the only discordant note has been in the closing observations of the hon. Member who has just sat down. The hon. Member taunted the Government that they had been in office now four years—[An HON. MEMBER: Five years.]—and had done literally nothing in regard to this question. The hon. Member is apparently entirely ignorant of the fact that, owing to the Bill which was passed by the Government last year, and the operations which were rendered possible under that Bill—a Bill, moreover, which was recommended—I may say, brought in at the request of the Local Government Board—we were successful at all events in dealing with this question, and in preventing what unquestionably would have been over a portion of London the worst of all the water famines that has up to the present time been experienced. I must say that the House is placed in a somewhat peculiar position, because, as I think I shall be able to show, in spite of the speech of the hon. Member for Hoxton, we are asked to read a second time to night a Bill which un- doubtedly is directly in conflict with the recommendations of the Royal Commission which was expressly appointed to inquire into all the subjects to which it relates. I cannot help thinking that the House of Commons will require more cogent and more convincing reasons than any which have been submitted to it at the present time before they adopt a course which, to say the least of it, would be extremely unusual. Now what are the grounds on which we are asked to-night to take this very unusual course? They are mainly two—the merits of the Bill which is now before us, or, rather, I should say of the Bills, for there is another Bill on the Paper, and which embrace the whole policy of the London County Council with regard to the London water question, and the second ground is this—and the hon. Gentleman laid great stress upon this—the necessity for immediate legislation—a necessity which he said was so urgent that it could not be postponed without injury to the consumers and the ratepayers of London. In regard to the first ground, I do not think we are called upon to argue that question at any length to-night, and it will probably be sufficient to say that this Bill which we are asked to read a second time is directly at variance with the main recommendations of the Royal Commission which I have referred to. That Commission, as the House is well aware, sat for, I think, two years and a half, took an immense amount of evidence, and it has quite recently reported. I am glad to hear from all the comments that have been made with regard to the Report of that Commission that everybody seems to recognise that it is a most complete and exhaustive Report on the whole London water question, and all the questions connected with it. I can only say for my own part that I think the public are much indebted to both Lord Llandaff and his colleagues for the great attention they gave to this matter. I would say in regard to this Commission that in some of their most important conclusions they confirm the findings of another Commission which sat upon this question some years ago, and which was presided over by Lord Balfour, and notably in respect to the sufficiency of the present sources of supply, both as regards quantity and quality, provided that adequate storage is provided. I think that is a very significant circumstance, and it adds to the value and to the weight of this Report when everybody seems to agree. Moreover, and this is not always the case with Royal Commissions, it makes some very definite and some very precise recommendations. Some of them have been alluded to already by my hon. friend behind me. Perhaps the House will allow me as briefly as I can to summarise what are the chief recommendations of this Report. They recommend, first, that the undertakings of the London water companies should be acquired by a Government authority. It is quite true that the County Council of London are in concurrence, and I think there will be general agreement with regard to this part of the question; but, secondly, when they come to the question of who should be the purchaser, they say very explicitly that it ought not to be the County Council for a variety of reasons, on one or two of which I shall have a word to say directly. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down pointed out that although they made the recommendation that the County Council was not to be the purchaser, there was no reason why it should not ultimately be the authority, I think he said.


It was the other way. I simply said that I understood the Commission to object to the County Council being the future administering authority, but I said that there was nothing in the Report to show that the County Council should not be the purchasing authority and afterwards hand over the control to another.


Upon that point the hon. Member will find that the Royal Commission drew no distinction between the purchaser and the authority that was to administer the water supply. On the question of the authority they say most distinctly, "We think the Water Board should be a permanent and not a fluctuating body." Not only is it to be a non-fluctuating body, but it is to be selected on the grounds of capacity for business, and general knowledge of the subject, and they also recommend that the County Council should be very largely represented upon it. Thirdly, they maintain that the present sources of supply in the valleys of the Thames and the Lee are sufficient in quantity and quality, and with adequate storage will continue to be so until the year 1941, even supposing the population continues to grow at the present rate of increase Fourthly, they say that to embark at the present moment on bringing water from Wales would be to throw an unnecessary burden on the present and next generation of water-rate payers and their immediate successors, their reason for saying so being that the cost of providing a supply from Wales would be immeasurably greater than the cost of providing an adequate water supply in other ways. There are many other recommendations, but these are among the chief of them, and they are quite sufficient, I think, for our discussion to-night. There are two Bills before us to-night. One is a Bill for the purchase of the undertakings by the London County Council. The other is a Bill to enable the County Council to bring water to London from Wales, and it appears to me perfectly obvious that to accept these Bills we should be flying directly in the teeth of the recommendations of the Commission. On the other hand, the purchase of the undertakings by the London County Council would seem to everyone, at first sight, to be so natural and so reasonable a course that I desire, with the permission of the House, to say one word with regard to the chief reasons given against that proposition. The fact is that the difficulty in this case, and I believe it has always been so, is with what are known as the outside areas. I desire to press this upon the House as having an important bearing on this part of the Bill. It is in these outside areas that the great increase of population is to be looked forward to in the future. It is of enormous importance that there should be a greatly increased water supply in those outside areas, seeing that the population is growing, and will continue to grow until, according to the estimates which have been made, it will be as large as the population of London itself within the period named by this Commission, namely, the next forty years. It is from these outside areas that the most irreconcilable opposition comes to allowing the control of their water supply to be in the hands of the London County Council. No one has recognised this more than the County Council itself, so much so that they have pledged themselves to make arrangements to hand over to those outside areas the control of their own water supply. If this proposition were permissible there would have been no possible objection, in my opinion, to the London County Council being the water authority for London, but unfortunately the pledges given by the London County Council turned out to be altogether impracticable. Many authorities on this subject always maintained that that would be the case, and therefore for this precise reason the question of severance was submitted to the judgment of the Royal Commission. They reported in words which I should like to read to the House. They are in paragraph 137. It is only a short statement, and I wish to draw public attention to it— The conclusion we arrive at on this subject is that although severance of the works and sources of supply of the several companies, and the division thereof between the councils of the six counties within the limits of supply, are not actually impracticable, they would be very difficult and highly undesirable. They will involve needless waste and expense, and can only be carried out with constant friction in working details, and at a greatly increased cost of management. All the advantages and economies of concentration and amalgamation will be sacrificed; it will become increasingly difficult to deal with future wants; and no compensating advantage will be secured. That being so, the County Council, recognising that that is the situation, now come forward with another proposal, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member to-night, and which, from the speech of the hon. Member, from a deputation which did me the honour to wait upon me, and from circulars which have been sent to Members of the House, I understand to be this: Their Bill for purchase is now to be allowed to go forward. That Bill is to contain a clause enabling—according to the circular or according to the deputation—a Bill to be introduced for legislation, either during next session or the session after, to constitute the authority; or, as the hon. Member said, the County Council is prepared to purchase on trust. With regard to that proposal, I have to say that it is one thing to bring in a Bill, and it is another thing to be able to pass it. Suppose, anything occurred to prevent the passing of that Bill in the next or the succeeding session of Parliament, what would be the position? A great many things may happen before then. Suppose the constitution of the new authority proposed by the Bill should be strongly opposed in this House, what would be the position then? The County Council would be in possession; they would be de facto the water authority; and we in effect to-night should have agreed to the very thing to which the Royal Commission have so strongly objected. We should have made the County Council the authority not only for London itself, but also for all the outside areas, to which course, as I have already pointed out, those outside authorities are irreconcilably opposed. I cannot believe that this is an arrangement to which the House of Commons either will or ought to consent. Nor can I say that there is anything in the plea of urgency, which the hon. Member has put forward. What did the hon. Member say upon that point? That any further delay would be injurious, especially on financial grounds. He spoke of certain clauses, the insertion of which he and his friends had promoted in recent Bills which had been submitted to Parliament, by which concessions were not to have the effect of giving further assets to the company. But there is nothing to prevent similar clauses being inserted in any Bill which may come before Parliament before this question is finally settled.


To extend the operation of the present clauses would require a Government measure.


I do not think a Government measure would be necessary. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question across the floor of the House the other day* when he advocated this matter, as to what were my views upon that subject, and he advocated at the same time the insertion of clauses relating to the Sinking Fund. I told him in reply that I thought there was a great deal in the proposition which he had made. Since then, I may tell him, in making a report to the Committee—which is part of the duty of the Local Government Board—with regard to one of the Bills which are now before the Committee upstairs, we have suggested that the Sinking Fund Clauses should be introduced.


I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that right, but the point of my argument was * See discussion on Second Reading of the East London Water Bill, 13th March, 1900. (The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], vol. lxxx., page 719.) that the existing clause in the Staines Reservoir Act ran out in 1903.


I will deal with that in a moment; I cannot deal with all the questions at once. I will take that next. The hon. Gentleman is greatly afraid that the clauses in some of the existing Acts of Parliament will expire before the necessary measures are passed. I am aware of only three such measures. There is the Staines Reservoir Act, which expires, it is true, in 1903, but not until the month of August, 1903, or nearly four years from the present time; and if this question cannot be settled within the next four years, in my humble opinion it is not likely to be settled at all. There are two other Acts, one of which expires in 1908, and the other of which expires in 1906, that being the Act passed by the Government in 1899. Surely these are limits of time within which we should be perfectly safe, even if we postponed dealing with this question until after the present session. On the other hand, there is one other question to which I wish to refer—though it was not mentioned by the hon. Member, but it was referred to in various publications—namely, the effect of the next quinquennial valuation. It was contended before the Royal Commission that the effect of the next quinquennial valuation would be to raise the value of the undertakings of the water companies by no less a sum than £218,000 a year. In, reply to that, I have to say that, although no doubt there is an increase in some cases, there is a decrease in others. That is the first thing to recollect. The second point is that in the case of railway and other large companies, which form a very large element indeed in the rateable value, the water is taken by meter; these companies do not pay according to rateable value, and therefore in those cases the water companies gain absolutely nothing. In fact, it was shown at the Royal Commission that six of the eight existing water companies would, on the balance, lose rather than gain by the next quinquennial valuation. That is the verdict of the Commission with regard to six of the companies. With regard to the remaining two companies, I have myself made inquiries since the Report of the Commission was published, and my information shows the same result certainly in one case, and, as far as my memory goes, in both. This fact is summed up in two short paragraphs of the Report with which I will not trouble the House. There is, I admit, one question of great urgency, but it was not referred to by the hon. Gentleman or any of the speakers on that side of the House, and that is the necessity for further storage in the valley of the Thames. That, I consider, having given great attention to this subject, is, at the present moment, beyond all others the most important and most urgent question in connection with the water supply of London. But that question is not necessarily affected by the postponement of these Bills. There are two Bills at this moment before Parliament for greatly increasing the necessary storage for London; one is the Bill of the East London Water Company, providing for additional storage to the extent of 5,500,000,000 gallons, and the other is the Bill of the Lambeth Company providing for 1,000,000,000 gallons. A similar Bill was introduced last year on behalf of the East London Company, which safely passed the Committee upstairs and went through this House. To my great regret, owing to the exertions of the London County Council, that Bill was rejected by the House of Lords. It is not my business to criticise the proceedings of any Committee of either House of Parliament. I would only say that I personally, having some knowledge of the subject, should have been very very sorry to take upon myself the great responsibility of rejecting that measure. There was another question raised by the supporters of the policy of the London County Council, with which also I have very great sympathy, namely, the desirability of being early in the field in Wales in order to secure the reversion of a water-shed for all and any possible requirements of London in a more or less distant future. That I think is a proposal well deserving of most careful consideration. But provision may easily be made for that in any legislation which is thought to be necessary or desirable on this subject, and it certainly is not one of any immediate urgency for the present session. It really seems to me that there is very little to be urged on the ground of urgency, or on those grounds which the hon. Member has put before us to-night. As to the changes foreshadowed by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, to which he would agree in the passage of this Bill through Committee, I must say that they would so greatly transform the present measure that it is too big a question to be dealt with and settled in that way. I have come to the conclusion, in spite of the appeal made to me by the hon. Member, that under the circumstances there is nothing to warrant us in taking a course which would be so extremely unusual. I venture to think it would be contrary to all precedent and very ill-advised on our part to sanction the progress of these Bills now. I desire fully to acknowledge the very conciliatory spirit shown on behalf of the London County Council by the hon. Member to-night. We recognise thoroughly the importance of this question, and when the time comes for it to be the duty of the Government again to consider this matter I can assure the hon. Member we shall most gladly reciprocate the conciliatory spirit which he has shown.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

Why not now?


The conditions under which purchase should be effected, the tribunal to which the question should be referred, the constitution of the new authority, and many other questions of importance of that kind, will always have to be considered. I hope that the objections which have been raised to-night will not be considered insuperable, and for my part I am sanguine that it will be possible to devise a scheme to meet difficulties, and which will permit this question of the water supply of London to be finally and satisfactorily settled. If I may make a suggestion towards this end it is that hon. Members should now allow this discussion to conclude without taking a division.

MR. MELLOR (Yorkshire, W.R., Sowerby)

Before this discussion closes I wish to refer to the two Commissioners who, unhappily, died between the time when the evidence closed and the signing of the Report. Both were great authorities on the water question. One of them was my learned friend Mr. Cripps, a gentleman well acquainted with water legislation and Bills of this kind; and the other gentleman was General de Courcy Scott, the water examiner for London, an accomplished and able man, who was a very great assistance in all the discussions. After the repeated discussions I have had with both these gentlemen I am in the position to say that had they lived to the time when it became our duty to sign the Report, I have no doubt that they would have agreed with us, and their signatures would have added considerable weight to it.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

Representing as I do a riparian constituency, and being a member of the London County Council, I venture, for the first time since I have been a Member of this House, to intervene in a water companies debate; and in so doing I have to remind the House that to-day, not for the first nor the twentieth, and certainly not for the last time the House has a London Water Bill before it for consideration. I am sincerely sorry that the President of the Local Government Board, who ought to have grasped this subject in a more statesmanlike way, has not risen to the height of his duty and the level of his responsibility to the water consumers of London. It is necessary in affirming my opinion for that statement that I should traverse one or two of the remarks made by the President of the Local Government Board. In his attempts to answer the hon. Member for Poplar, he seems to have given away the whole case for the water companies. What did he say? When the hon. Member for Poplar justly twitted him with doing nothing to solve the water question, the right hon. Gentleman replied that but for what the Government had done London would have been face to face with a water famine in the East of London. What does that mean? It means that the only thing you have done has been to compel the eight water companies to link up their mains, and you had to bring great public pressure to bear upon them to do it. But you have not compelled them to increase the supply of water flowing through those mains. You have improved the method of distribution, but the total volume of water distributed has not been increased by a single gallon, and if that is the only thing you can do for the water consumers of London, then all I can say is that they have very little indeed to thank the Government for. The right hon. Gentleman says this Bill is opposed to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I want to know how much this Bill is opposed to those recommenda- tions, and to find that out I have only to quote the list of recommendations which the right hon. Gentleman himself read out; and what are they? He said that this Commission which sat for such a great length of time, and took so much evidence with so much ability, made certain recommendations. I never had much opinion of Commissions on anything, and I am glad to say that I hold that view in company with Lord Salisbury, for whose opinion on this point I have a sincere respect. But what does this Commission recommend? They recommend that the régime of the water companies should disappear, and that there should be a public authority. That is what this Royal Commission recommended, but the London County Council has been demanding that for the last ten or eleven years, and will continue to demand it until Parliament, in the interests of the people of London and against the narrow interests of water directors and water companies, complies with that request. Then this blessed Royal Commission—and it has been blessed by the President of the Local Government Board, and I wish he had done the other thing—not only recommended that a public authority should manage the water supply of London, but also that purchase should be resorted to. The London County Council has presented Bills for eight or nine years past in favour of purchase, but the right hon. Gentleman says the London County Council is not the proper body. He argues that it is not a permanent body, and I may add neither is Parliament, and neither are the 800 town and county councils in Great Britain and Ireland, which already own their own water supply, and who invariably exercise their duties with economy, efficiency, and with purity of administration. What the London Members ask for is that the public authority recommended by the Royal Commission should be the London County Council; that it should purchase the water companies, and that being agreed upon the undertaking should then be managed by the elected representative body of London. We only ask to be allowed to carry out and administer what these 800 local authorities are now doing. We are told that we want a water board. If the right hon. Gentleman requires any experience of water boards, let him go to the water trust in New York. If he wants to know how water boards work, let him go through the States of America, and he will find that where trusts manage the water supply, there jobbery is prevalent, there the water is dearest, and there the supply gives the least satisfaction to the people for whom it is administered. If he comes to Great Britain and Ireland he will find that in such places as Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham, where the water authority is the elected representative body and is therefore a fluctuating and not a permanent body, there he will find that they manage and administer their water supply with great ability and efficiency. I come now to another point of the right hon. Gentleman's contention. He said that the Commission reported that the Thames and the Lea were sufficient for all future purposes. He will pardon me if I differ from him and the Commission in that respect. I see a New River Company shareholder smiling. Who would not smile with an "Adventurers" share? I will remind the House what the New River Company did in 1892. In that year they came to the House of Commons and told us that they had within their catchment area sufficient water for all purposes for forty years ahead. But in 1896 they told this House that they had made a mistake, and only four years after that came to the House of Commons asking for Bills to enable them to undo the misstatement they made in 1892, and they asked for power to provided for the deficiency which they said would never arise within forty years. The right hon. Gentleman says that storage ought to be undertaken and that it was a vital matter. On this point I am glad to say the House of Lords and the London County Council agree, and that is most satisfactory. First of all, it proves the moderation of the London County Council's demand. You never find the House of Lords in favour of confiscation, and the fact that they agree with the London County Council indicates the extreme moderation of the Council's terms, and above all it represents and indicates that the House of Lords sometimes does its duty to the public, when free from the high pressure of water company directors, and can do its duty without that pressure which has been too frequently exercised on public opinion inside and outside of this House by those interested in water com- panies. With regard to the outside areas it is a most significant fact that the only hon. Members who cheered the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are either water company directors or those who have always opposed the idea of the London County Council having the water supply. I have not heard any hon. Members from Bedford, Hertford, Middlesex, or Wales get up and oppose the County Council's terms of purchase, and I do not believe they will oppose seriously the Welsh scheme. But if they do oppose, it will be opposition of a Committee stage character, and it will not be directed against the vital principles of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that this Bill, in its details is impracticable. Does he mean to say that English engineers are incapable of grappling with physical difficulties and with natural obstacles to a Metropolitan water supply? We can irrigate India by Government officials, and we can ensure the prosperity and success of the Egyptian people by great engineering plans; we can send engineers to overcome great difficulties in foreign countries, and we are asked to believe that, although these difficulties can be overcome everywhere else, they cannot be got over in the River Thames or the water-shed of the outside area. All these suggestions of impracticability would disappear if we were to give the water companies the Lands Clauses terms, which means £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 more than that which they are fairly entitled to receive. When the right hon. Gentleman says that the existing water companies can provide for the future by large storage reservoirs, let me point out that even this Royal Commission said that the provision of storage was not a matter that one company could do, or even that eight companies effectually combined could do, but it was a matter to be undertaken by a public authority which would alone be able to grapple effectively with the storage question. The right hon. Gentleman would also find such a public authority confronted with the question as to whether the people would allow those ugly Staines reservoirs to be repeated mile after mile down the beautiful Thames valley. If that public authority were confronted with the task of having to make fourteen or fifteen miles of thirty feet high reservoirs in the Thames and Lea valley, I think the expense would be very heavy, and would be nearly as much as the cost of going to Wales for a fresh supply. Such a public authority would be driven in the last resource, on the ground of economy, to absorb land from the outside areas which is wanted for building purposes, and upon which the people do not want ugly reservoirs erected, which would be not only a danger to the immediate locality, but would be a positive source of harm to the residents who live in the neighbourhood of those reservoirs. I have ventured to deal with one or two points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but I claim this opportunity to say a few words upon the broad and the general question of municipal purchase, and upon this point I do earnestly appeal to provincial Members on both sides of the House. I would appeal to hon. Members representing the large cities of the Kingdom, which in the main have Conservative representation. Why should you deny to London that which you grant to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Birmingham? Beyond prejudice against the London County Council there is no defence for opposing this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that you must wait until this Trust or Board, composed of capable men, is appointed. On the point of capability the right hon. Gentleman will not insist, because it would be contradictory to his previous statements if he were to say that the London County Council for this purpose is not as efficient, capable, and honest as any other county council in Great Britain. He has frequently admired their system of accounts and their finance; yea, he has said at the Table of this House that the system of accounts of the London County Council is probably the best of any municipal authority in the kingdom. So much for efficiency. From the point of view of technical capability, I venture to say there are not a dozen water company directors in this House who are equal in ability, capacity, and disinterestedness to the first five County Councillors you would meet in Spring Gardens. So much for honesty. What is more—are these gentlemen elected fortheir knowledge of boring, or of stratification, or of bacteriological analyses of water? Not a bit of it. They are elected for other and higher virtues than are found in a chemical laboratory. When we are told that a Board will be more capable, permit me to say that I do not believe it. Until the County Council has been proved—as it cannot be proved—to be either incapable, dishonest, or to have a desire to be unjust to the outlying authorities, there is no reason why it should not exercise the functions which every corporate council in the kingdom has hitherto exercised. But let me refer for a moment to the way in which evidence is accumulating in favour of the County Council having this control. In 1880 Lord Cross introduced a Bill which I regret was not accepted at that time. [Hear, hear.] Ah! but that was not the fault of the London County Council; it was because Parliament, not for the first time, showed its lack of knowledge of what only a local authority is able to do better. Since 1880 we have had Commission and Committee, the one after the other, and we end up by purchase by an authority—a body to be not the County Council, but a Water Board, to take over the affairs of the company. I venture to say that this delay cannot last much longer. It is not only the potable water of which we desire to get hold. Look at the water supply of London from any point of view. Take the river Thames. The river will not much longer stand the depletion of its stream by the increased quantities which the water companies are yearly taking from it.


was understood to dissent.


Does the hon. Member the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy doubt that? If so, I shall quote paragraph 100, which is a flat contradiction by the Engineer of the Thames Conservancy of the hon. Member's interruption.


I certainly deny it. I say that except at a certain period of the year, in the autumn, when the flow is apt to be smaller, there is an enormous quantity of water, something like 1,200,000,000 gallons, passing over Teddington Weir—an amount sufficient for storage and for every other purpose necessary.


Does not the hon. Member see how he has confirmed my statement? What does he tell the House? That except in July and August, when we ought to have more water than at any other time of the year—that except in the summer time, when droughts prevail—the river Thames has quite enough water for the people of London. That is about as good as telling a London street-boy to go to St. Petersburg in the winter time to eat ice-cream.


I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not desire to misrepresent me. What I said was that there was sufficient for storage, and it naturally follows that the storage with which the hon. Member finds so much fault is the very system which will allow an ample supply during those months when the river is low without any detriment to the Thames or to its navigation.


That was said in 1893, 1894, 1895, and 1896, but recurring water famines have proved that the statement was unfounded, and if the hon. Member will take a plébiscite of the pleasure-going traffic from Molesley Lock to Teddington Weir he will find that both the lock-keepers and the pleasure-passenger public share the view which I hold—that on the grounds of trade, pleasure, health, and sanitation the settlement of this question can no longer be delayed. We are told that storage will settle it. When are you going to get your water? You can get it only at flood time. What is the experience of the chemist at flood time? That at the particular moment the water is charged with more micro-organisms than at any other time. You are going to get the water to store from a district the residential population of which is increasing—a district which has sewage farms upon it, the effluent from which and the water from manured lands has to go into the river Thames. This is the water, part of which you are to store for weeks and months, and part of which you are to filter at Hampton and Molesey. But let me deal with another point. I appeal to commercial men. Go to the wharfingers and the lightermen, to the something like 10,000 men employed in the barges and lighters on the river Thames, and they will tell you that in consequence of the increased width, depth, and tonnage of barges, they are frequently compelled, owing to the lack of water, to do on two tides what formerly they did on one. No suggestion of a lock at Wandsworth or Richmond or lower down will solve this difficulty. I think the hon. Member will admit that one of the greatest mistakes ever made on the river Thames was the building of the Kew and Richmond Lock. Why was it done? Because the pleasure traffic above Richmond could not get water enough even for their rowing boats. Is this big waterway to depend for its trade and its pleasure upon such trumpery and useless expedients as a lock at Richmond and another at Battersea or Wandsworth? All these temporary expedients prove how heavy is the drain of the water companies from the river Thames. There are one or two other points upon which I will touch only briefly. Why do the water companies' directors oppose the Council? It is only on the terms of purchase. That is a matter for neither the water companies' directors nor the County Council. It is a matter for a Committee of this House. It is a matter for a tribunal which should go into the details of finance and repayment, and all the circumstances of the case, and do justice to the outside authorities in a way which is in keeping with the traditions of our Parliamentary Committees. I believe that this House of Commons will go on dabbling with this water question until we have an epidemic not only in the East, but in the West End of London. I believe that as the House passed a garrotting Bill only when one of its Members was garrotted at the bottom of the Duke of York's steps, so it will be driven to pass a Bill to municipalise London water only when continued droughts have been succeeded by several epidemics. I do not believe the House will move even then until the epidemic happens to be in the West End of London, and the West End people with their influence and ability are able to exercise that pressure upon Parliament and the water companies which they know so well how to exert. My view is that prevention is better than cure. I want to prevent an epidemic by going to a Welsh lake, by getting water from cloudland instead of from a sewage-polluted area. I want to be fair and just to the water companies, and I am prepared to trust a House of Commons Committee to be the arbiter as between the County Council and the water companies shareholders. I want to protect the diminishing trade of the river Thames, where tidal water alone is responsible for carrying on that trade. I want to make the river Thames more and more the silent highway of this great city, on which pleasure will be more frequent and profitable than it now is. In asking for these things I am asking only for that, the carrying out of which London ratepayers at four successive elections have demanded. Who is the authority to determine this? With all respect to this assembly, Parliament is not the authority to determine whether this should be company or municipal enterprise. The authority to decide that are the five millions of water consumers outside. What have they done? At Chelsea, and elsewhere, which in this House is represented by a Conservative who opposes these water Bills, two Progressives were returned at the last County Council election in favour of the municipal water policy. All over London councillors have been elected to support those or similar Bills. For four successive elections the London ratepayers by overwhelming majorities have decided in favour of municipal water—water from Wales, and the purchase of the undertakings of the companies. I appeal to Members of Parliament from provincial districts to respect the mandate of the municipal electors of London. I ask the House to brush aside the paltry and fatuous arguments which have been adduced against this Bill, and to release the city of London once and for all from the toils of the water company directors, who too long have extracted a million of money per annum out of the water consumers of this city, and who in doing so have imposed upon the poor of the East End of London endless misery and inconvenience, have brought this big city several times within easy distance of a water famine, and by their policy of living from hand to mouth, as Parliament may decree, they have caused the future water supply of London to be fraught with great danger to the health and trade and pleasure of this vast city. It is for these reasons I ask the House of Commons to reject both the speech and the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, and to place this city side by side with Glasgow and other places by putting a municipal water supply in the hands of London's elected representatives.

MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)

Before we go to a division I should like to remind the House of what is the real question we have to decide. The question is not whether the London County Council is to administer the water supply of London, but whether we are to-day to make a beginning with the execution of the policy of purchase recommended by the Royal Commission. I do not apologise for rising for a moment to take part in this discussion. It has been left too much in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and the happy—or shall I call it the unhappy—family of London representatives. There are those of us who by the exigencies of public business are brought from very remote parts of the country, and compelled to live for a longer period of the year in London than we should otherwise desire, and I am never able to take the view that the question of the London water supply is a question to be discussed on the footing of being a mere private Bill question. How do we stand to-day? A Royal Commission of great ability sat for sixteen months, presided over by Lord Llandaff, who, by his traditions, is certainly not a person who would be likely to lean too much in favour of the views of the London County Council. What that Commission had to decide was between two policies: one was that of the London County Council becoming the purchasers and administrators of the water supply of London, and the other was the question of whether the contention of the water companies should be accepted and nothing done except on minor matters. What did that Commission decide? It decided, and decided most emphatically, in favour of purchase, and that nothing short of purchase would be of any use. It is quite i true that the Commission went on to say that they did not recommend that the London County Council should be the purchasing authority, but why did they do that? If you look at paragraph 146 and the other paragraphs in which they discuss the matter, it is perfectly plain that they said that because they contemplated that if the London County Council became the purchasing authority it would also become the administrative authority. That is a much larger question, and one which is not raised by my hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. My hon. friend was able to point to this, and it was recognised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that what the London County Council are now asking for—not only through the mouth of my hon. friend, or through the deputation which waited upon the Government, but also through what they propose in the 25th Clause of this Bill—is that the Government should to-day make a beginning with the carrying out of the policy of purchase, leaving for the future the settlement of the question of who is to be the administrative authority. That is quite clear if you read the 25th Clause of the Bill, and it is put beyond doubt by the undertakings which have been given. What reasons are there why they should proceed? To my mind there is one very cogent reason. Whenever this policy of purchase is initiated it must take some years to carry out. Of all the undertakings on which Parliament has allowed private promoters to embark there is nothing at all comparable in magnitude with the proposal for which this Bill asks sanction. The policy of purchasing the undertakings of the Water Companies must necessarily take a very long time, by the very necessities of the situation, as proper inquiry will have to be made to see that people are paid what is justly due to them, and there will be a multitude of complicated interests to unravel. If that be so, surely the attitude of the Government is most unsatisfactory. They brought in, it is true, two or three years ago a Bill for constituting a central authority, but without any purchasing powers, if I recollect rightly. They did not, however, press that Bill; they did not appear to be in earnest about it. I listened most attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and I confess that if I were a London representative I should not be at all inclined to adopt that conciliatory spirit which the right hon. Gentleman commended. I found nothing in that speech which gave any promise that the Government were in earnest about giving effect to the policy of the very Royal Commission which the right hon. Gentleman so plentifully praised. Not one word appeared in the Queen's Speech, and not one word appeared in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which would lead us to believe that the Government itself intends to take the initiative in this policy of purchase. I will not detain the House by giving reasons why that policy should be adopted; sufficient reasons have already been brought forward. But I do press upon the House the view that by assenting to the Second Reading of this Bill we may begin the carrying out of the policy of purchase which the Royal Commission have recommended, of which the Government itself is in favour, and which, although hon. Members opposite do not expressly commit themselves to, they have carefully abstained from opposing. This step will not have for its necessary consequence administration by this or that or some other authority, but will simply be this and nothing more—a beginning in earnest of the carrying out of the policy of purchase on which we all profess to be agreed.

SIR SAMUEL MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)

I do not intend to delay the House by going into the details of the Bill, but as a Member for an East London constituency I feel bound to say a word on behalf of my constituents in support of this measure. East London contains about one-fourth of the inhabitants of this great city, and, therefore, about one-fourth of the water consumers of London, and no class in London have suffered more by the management or the mismanagement of the water companies than the working people and the very poor in Whitechapel. It is immaterial whether the deficiency in the water supply which occurred a year or two ago arose from the heat of summer or the frost of winter, or whether in all seasons it arose from defective pipes or the absence of cisterns. The poor always suffer. I rose especially to point out the urgency of purchasing these undertakings, or of altering the present condition of things, for the reason that in my constituency and the adjoining constituencies the house rents have been raised to double and treble their former amount, and, therefore, on the new assessment next year the water rate will be of necessity increased at the same rate. The companies will have no mercy, because, as they are looking forward to their interest being purchased, they will naturally drive the rating power they possess to its fullest extent.


pointed out that the quinquennial assessment did not raise the water rates.


If the house-rent has been raised, the assessment, of course, will also be raised.


But the companies do not raise the price of the water.


They charge a percentage on the rent, and naturally, therefore, if the rent is raised the assessment for water rate is also raised in proportion. I beg the hon. Member's pardon, but I am quite certain I am correct in regard to this point. In the West End, however much we may find fault with the water companies in other respects, we always have a full supply of water. The deficiency of supply is reserved for the people of East London, who cannot protect themselves and who are absolutely defenceless. Since a similar Bill to this was brought in two or three years ago, we have had a general election of the London County Council. In that election I took an active part, and I therefore know something about the feelings of the electors in regard to this matter. The people of London are of one mind that this control should be confided to the London County Council or to some similar body directly representative of the electors, and over which the ratepayers can exercise a certain amount of popular control. I am glad to see that all parties are of opinion that such a necessity of life as water should not be in private hands for any long period, and I would urge the Government, in consideration of the poor and working classes, to bring about some change for the better as speedily as possible.


I desire to support the remarks of the hon. Member for Whitechapel in reference to the increase of the water rate. It is quite true, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Epping Division states, that they do not propose to increase the water charge in this sense; they do not charge so much per gallon for every gallon of water consumed, but under the existing law the companies are allowed to charge one shilling in the pound on the rateable value of the house. Let me give my own case as an example. When I first became the tenant of the house I now occupy my family was young, and the house was rated on an assessment of £25 per annum. Therefore I had to pay twenty-five shillings as water rate. When the next quinquennial valuation came round my assessment was increased by £2. Although my family had grown up and some of them left home, with the result that we were consuming less water, I had to pay two shillings more as water rate. When the assessment takes place next year my rate may be still further increased, although I am consuming still less water. That is the position of the whole of the people in the East End of London. There are a million working men in East London, and those who do not pay the water rate direct to the company, as I do, have to pay it indirectly through the rent.

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

Throughout the debate this question has been argued with comparatively little reference to the most important underlying consideration in the whole matter, namely, the question of public health. It has been argued from the point of view of purchase of the property of the water companies; it has been argued from the point of view of control by a public body; but underlying these considerations there is the still greater and more urgent question of the public health of the community, and in dealing with one of the prime necessities of life that consideration more than any other ought certainly to influence votes in this House. I hope that any Members who have doubts in their minds on this question will vote in the direction of sanctioning both of these Bills rather than against them, on the ground that by; so doing they will be doing something for the health of the community. This question has been described as being not an urgent question. The question was urgent nearly thirty years ago, and it has been getting more urgent every year; but yet the representative of the Local Government Board tells us to-day that it is not an urgent question, and that it can be put off still longer. We have been over and over again within measurable distance of a national disaster through the action of the London water companies during the last few years. If those water famines had happened to coincide with an epidemic of cholera or any similar disease we should have had the population decimated in consequence of the deficiency of the water supply. Because we have escaped those dangers we are to ignore them, and the Government is ignoring them by the attitude it is adopting towards these Bills. The merit of the proposal before us is that not only will it place the water supply of London under popular control, under the control of persons responsible to the inhabitants of the metropolis, but it will also seek for a water supply from new and fresh sources. In any case, it will put the matter under the control of a public authority. Now, a public authority is a body better than any other for such a purpose, because it has only one object in view, the public health; it has nothing to do but to be honest and straight forward in dealing with the money of the community, and is untouched by any considerations of dividends. I believe this is a Bill which will do for London what was found necessary in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and all large provincial cities. Because we have not the same government in London as in these localities that is no reason why we

should not avail ourselves of the opportunity of putting under the control of a public authority the management and administration of one of the prime necessaries of life, and one essential to the public health of the community.


No one will question the right of my hon. friend the Member for Ilkeston to speak with authority on matters of public health; and I only rise to say that if he had read the Report of the Balfour and Llandaff Commissions he would have found strong testimony not only as to the quality of London water, but also as to the sufficiency of the quantity, with adequate storage, for the next forty years.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 151; Noes, 234. (Division List No. 90.)

Abraham William (Cork, N.E.) Douglas, Chas. M. (Lanark) Macaleese, Daniel
Abraham, William (Rhondda) Duckworth, James MacDonnell, Dr. M A (Queen'.C
Allison, Robert Andrew Ellis, John Edward Maclean, James Mackenzie
Ambrose, Robert Evans, Sir Fran. H. (South'ton MacNeill, John Gordon Swift
Asher, Alexander Farquharson, Dr. Robert M'Ewan, William
Ashton, Thomas Gair Fenwick, Charles M'Ghee, Richard
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond M'Laren, Charles Benjamin
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Flannery, Sir Fortescue Maddison, Fred.
Bainbridge, Emerson Flavin, Michael Joseph Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand
Barlow, John Emmott Flynn, James Christopher Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co. Morgan, J. L. (Carmarthen)
Billson, Alfred Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)
Birrell, Augustine Gibney, James Moulton, John Fletcher
Blake, Edward Goddard, Daniel Ford Norton, Capt. Cecil William
Bolton, Thomas Dolling Gold, Charles O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)
Brigg, John Gordon, Hon. John Edward O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Broadhurst, Henry Greville, Hon. Ronald O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Bullard, Sir Harry Griffith, Ellis J. O'Kelly, James
Burns, John Gurdon, Sir Wm. Brampton O'Malley, William
Burt, Thomas Haldane, Richard Burdon Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Buxton, Sydney Charles Harcourt, Rt. Hon Sir W. Palmer, G. W. (Reading)
Caldwell, James Harwood, George Paulton, James Mellor
Cameron, SirCharles (Glasgow Hayden, John Patrick Pease, J. A. (Northumberl'nd)
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Hayne, Rt. Hon. C. Seale- Perks, Robert William
Causton, Richard Knight Healy, Maurice (Cork) Pickard, Benjamin
Colville, John Heaton, John Henniker Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Condon, Thomas Joseph Hedderwick, Thomas Chas. H. Pinkerton, John
Courtney, Rt. Hon.Leonard H. Hemphill, Rt. Hon. C. H. Power, Patrick Joseph
Crean, Eugene Holland, William Henry Price, Robert John
Crilly, Daniel Horniman, Frederick John Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)
Crombie, John William Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal) Jones, David B. (Swansea) Reckitt, Harold James
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Jones, William (Carnarvon.) Redmond, J. E. (Waterford)
Daly, James Jordan, Jeremiah Redmond, W. (Clare)
Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt. H. Sir U Richardson, J. (Durham, S.E.)
Dewar, Arthur Kilbride, Denis Rickett, J. Compton
Dillon, John Lambert, George Roberts, J. B. (Eifion)
Donelan, Captain A. Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'lnd Robson, William Snowdon
Doogan, P. C. Leng, Sir John Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Doughty, George Lough, Thomas Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Schwann, Charles E. Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan) Wilson, John (Govan)
Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire) Thomas, David, A. (Merthyr) Wilson, J. H (Middlesbrough)
Smith, Samuel (Flint) Trevelyan, Charles Philips Woodhouse, Sir JT (Huddersf'd
Soames, Arthur Wellesley Wallace, Robert Woods, Samuel
Souttar, Robinson Walton, Joseph (Barnsley) Young, S. (Cavan, East)
Stanhope, Hon. Philip J. Wason, Eugene Yoxall, James Henry
Steadman, William Charles Wedderburn, Sir William
Stevenson, Francis S. Whiteley, George (Stockport) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Herbert Gladstone and Mr. M'Arthur.
Stuart, James (Shoreditch) Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath) Wilson, Frederick W. (Norfolk)
Tennant, Harold John Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Keswick, William
Aird, John Doxford, Sir Wm. Theodore Kimber, Henry
Allsopp, Hon. George Dyke, Rt Hon. Sir William Hart Knowles, Lees
Anstruther, H. T. Elliot, Hon. A. R. Douglas Lafone, Alfred
Archdale, Edward Mervyn Faber, George Denison Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Fardell, Sir T. George Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverp'l)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edwd. Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)
Bailey, James (Walworth) Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Man) Lea, Sir Thos. (Londonderry)
Baillie, J. E. B. (Inverness) Field, Admiral (Eastbourne. Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie
Balcarres, Lord Finch, George H. Llewelyn, Sir Dillw'n-(Swan'a
Baldwin, Alfred Finlay, Sir Robt. Bannatyne Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r. Fisher, William Hayes Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham)
Banbury, Frederick George Fison, Frederick William Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)
Barnes, Frederic Gorell Fitzgerald, Sir R. Penrose Lonsdale, John Brownlee
Barry, Rt Hn AHSmith-(Hunts Fletcher, Sir Henry Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller
Barry, Sir F. T. (Windsor) Forster, Henry William Lowther, Rt. Hon. J. (Kent)
Bartley, George C. T. Foster, Harry S. (Suffolk) Loyd, Archie Kirkman
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol Fry, Lewis Lucas-Shadwell, William
Beach, Rt. Hn. W. W. B. (Hants Galloway, William Johnson Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred
Bethell, Commander Garfit, William Macartney, W. G. Ellison
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Gibbons, J. Lloyd Macdona, John Cumming
Biddulph, Michael Gibbs, Hn A. G. H. (City of Lond. M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)
Bill, Charles Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans) M'Killop, James
Blundell, Colonel Henry Giles, Charles Tyrrell Malcolm, Ian
Bond, Edward Gilliat, John Saunders Maple, Sir John Blundell
Bonsor, Henry Cosmo Orme Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe
Boulnois, Edmund Goldsworthy, Major-General Marks, Henry Hananel
Bousfield, William Robert Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon Martin, Richard Biddulph
Bowles, Capt H. F. (Middlesex Goschen, Geo. J. (Sussex) Maxwell, Rt. Hn. Sir Herbert E.
Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn) Graham, Henry Robert Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)
Brassey, Albert Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Mellor, Rt. Hn. J. W. (Yorks.)
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Green, Walford D (Wednesbury Melville, Beresford Valentine
Brown, Alexander H. Gretton, John Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.
Butcher, John George Gull, Sir Cameron Middlemore, J. Throgmorton
Carlile, William Walter Halsey, Thomas Frederick Milward, Colonel Victor
Carson, Rt. Hon. Edward Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm. Monckton, Edward Philip
Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.) Hardy, Laurence Monk, Charles James
Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Hare, Thomas Leigh Montagu, Hn. J. Scott (Hants)
Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East) Haslett, Sir James Horner Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Heath, James More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm. Helder, Augustus Morrell, George Herbert
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Henderson, Alexander Morrison, Walter
Charrington, Spencer Hoare, Ed. Brodie (Hampstead Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)
Coddington, Sir William Hobhouse, Henry Mount, William George
Coghill, Douglas Harry Hornby, Sir William Henry Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Houston, R. P. Muntz, Philip A.
Colomb, Sir John Chas. Ready Howard, Joseph Murray, Rt Hn A Graham (Bute
Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth) Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle Murray, Charles J. (Coventry
Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W. Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil Myers, William Henry
Cox, Irwin Edw. Bainbridge Hudson, George Bickersteth Newdigate, Francis Alexander
Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Hughes, Colonel Edwin Nicholson, William Graham
Cross, H. Shepherd (Bolton) Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice- O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Jebb, Richard Claverhouse Pease, Herb. Pike (Darlington
Curzon, Viscount Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Penn, John
Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh Jenkins, Sir John Jones Percy, Earl
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Denny, Colonel Johnston, William (Belfast) Pierpoint, Robert
Digby, J. K. D. Wingfield- Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon Joicey, Sir James Plunkett, Rt Hn Horace Curzon
Donkin, Richard Sim Kenyon, James Pollock, Harry Frederick
Dorrington, Sir John Edward Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Pretyman, Ernest George Sinclair, Louis (Romford) Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton)
Purvis, Robert Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Quilter, Sir Cuthbert Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch) Welby, Sir Chas. G. E. (Notts.)
Rankin, Sir James Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.) Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd
Remnant, James Farquharson Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand) Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Renshaw, Charles Bine Spencer, Ernest Williams, J. Powell- (B'ghm.)
Rentoul, James Alexander Stanley, Sir H. M. (Lambeth) Willox, Sir John Archibald
Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W. Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M. Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)
Robertson, Herb. (Hackney) Stone, Sir Benjamin Wodehouse, Rt Hon. E. R (Bath
Round, James Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-
Russell, T. W. (Tyrone) Talbot, Rt Hn J. G. (Oxf'd Univ. Wrightson, Thomas
Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse) Thornton, Percy M. Wylie, Alexander
Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. Myles Tollemache, Henry James Wyndham, George
Savory, Sir Joseph Tomlinson, W. Edw. Murray Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong
Seely, Charles Hilton Tritton, Charles Ernest
Seton-Karr, Henry Wanklyn, James Leslie TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Whitmore and Mr. Goulding.
Sharpe, William Edward T. Webster, Sir Richard E.
Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew)

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Words added.

Second Reading put off for six months.