HC Deb 29 March 1900 vol 81 cc671-8

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg formally to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


Sir, in rising to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, I wish to state that I am not a shareholder, nor in any way connected with any water company. I am much surprised that the London County Council, after the way in which it was received by the House last year when they did not dare even to take a Second Reading, should have again brought it forward. Two very important things have happened since then. The first is the Report of the Royal Commission, which has been so often alluded to in the debate on the last Bill; and, on the question of urgency, Sir Alexander Binnie, the engineer of the London County Council, stated before the Royal Commission that there was a supply sufficient for the next ten or fifteen years. Before that time has elapsed the reservoirs approved of by this House will have come into operation. Then with regard to the amount of water which the scheme proposes to take for the benefit of London. In the first part of the scheme it only pro- poses to get 121,000,000 gallons per day, whereas the Thames in flood time passes 1,200,000,000 gallons a day over Teddington Weir, and in ordinary times 300,000,000 gallons. Even in ordinary time this is 100,000,000 gallons more than the 200,000,000 a day we consider necessary for the navigation of the river, and is about the amount which will be obtained from Wales by the first part of the scheme. During the drought which has lately taken place the average was 80,000,000, and the lowest day was 50,000,000. In addition to this it is very objectionable that the water is proposed to be remitted by a conduit 117 miles long, and afterwards by forty-five miles of pipes. The lowest estimate of Sir Alexander Binnie was from £10,000,000 to £14,000,000, while the other estimates in the Report of the Royal Commission are very much higher. In the statement sent out by the London County Council in support of the Bill, they quote from the Royal Commission's Report— There is no doubt something attractive in the scheme of bringing water from the Welsh mountains for the supply of London, and one would be glad if it were possible now to secure a water shed to be used hereafter if London should require it. But they forget to state the remainder of the paragraph— That assuming the water should prove sufficient in quality and quantity, the fact remains that it is much more costly than the supply from the Thames, and that it is unnecessary to incur this extra cost now, as the supply from the Thames will be adequate in quantity and quality up to 1941. As regards the quality of the water, the experience of Glasgow, which is one of the cities that has been mentioned, is not such as would induce London to be supplied in the same way as water is supplied to that city. The Report of the Royal Commission itself says— A vast amount of lead would be brought in the supply from Wales, which would have to be carefully treated. The second point was that last summer was the driest we have had for a considerable time. The Conservancy, at the request of the Government, allowed the water companies to take a very much larger quantity of water from the Thames than was in accordance with the Act of Parliament, and this was done, because by the Inter-communication Bill brought in by the Government, it would save the East of London from another water famine. I cannot but feel some pride that the inter-communication question which was established by the Government Bill was first brought before the House by a Bill which I brought in, and which was thrown out by the London County Council, but the principle of which has survived, and has been of such service to the whole of London. If, during the dry summer, the Thames, without these water reservoirs, was able to supply London at the driest time with 50,000,000 gallons over at Teddington Weir, I do not think that with those reservoirs which are so rapidly approaching completion, that London need have any fear whatever as to the supply or any necessity for any urgency during the next three years, as has been spoken of by the hon. Member. There is another question which is very important to this House. Supposing that the supply of the water companies is taken from Wales instead of the Thames, what is to become of the Upper Thames itself? You will have to consider this—that almost the whole revenue of the Upper Thames is drawn from the water companies. It is in consequence of this revenue that we are enabled to keep up the locks and weirs and make practical the navigation of the river. That if the water came from Wales the Government would have to find some means by which the navigation could be kept up. At any rate, as much as is necessary for navigation. If the money does not come from the water companies, I do not know where it is to come from. The matter will have to be considered by Parliament, and it will become necessary for the House of Commons to supply some means by which the interests of the Upper Thames, both for navigation and for pleasure traffic, shall be preserved. The last question I have to speak on is that of the purity of the Thames water for drinking purposes. At the present moment there are 500,000 extra people drinking pure water from the Thames, whereas four years ago they made it of an impure character. The report of all the authorities is that the water from the Thames is purer water than anywhere else. It is a very singular thing that the places from which the County Council proposes to take their water actually dried up during the last drought, while the Thames water kept all right. The action of the water of the Thames coming over weirs, and the various points of flow, is this—as everybody in authority will say—that it causes it to be the purest water that any place can have. It is not mixed with sewage or any other noxious thing. I, therefore, hope that this Bill will not be passed, and that the ratepayers will be saved an enormous expense, by which they would not get so good a supply for London as that which exists at the present moment. Under these circumstances I strongly oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and hope that the House of Commons will not allow the ratepayers' money to be wasted in the way in which it would be.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Sir Frederick Dixon-Hartland.)

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


I beg to second the motion for the rejection of the Bill. I should be exceedingly sorry if it was thought that no Member from Wales was prepared to speak on this subject. I represent a borough which has not only to take care of itself in regard to its water works, but to secure a supply of good, pure water from an adjacent county. I am also a member of the county council of Glamorganshire, and we require a supply of Welsh water for our own purposes. In the great coal field, of which Glamorganshire is the centre, we are liable to have our water polluted, and it is not always pure in itself, lying as it does on the main coal. Some of it is full of mineral matter, and unfit for domestic purposes, and, therefore, we have to go outside the county to the region of the old red sandstone to obtain a supply of pure water. In the Rhondda Valley there is a population of 150,000 to 200,000, and we oppose this measure because we think we should get a supply of our own Welsh water in the first instance. At the same time, water is not given to an individual or a county, but should be available for the whole country; and I should be very sorry to see a definite refusal given to allow water to be taken from Wales to supply London if only the Government were to take the question up. I have long held that watershed areas should be established with a view of giving water to places in the same district, even though they might not be in the same county. It seems to me that provision should also be made in establishing these water-shed areas for the shipping, in the future, and for large populations. We in Glamorgan look forward to a large increase in the industrial population, not only because of the presence of coal, but because other industries will be attracted by the coal, and on the seaboard where ships will come to carry away the products of these industries. Our county council, therefore, opposes this measure at present for giving power to carry water away from Wales to London.


thought the argument of the hon. Member for Swansea Town was rather in favour of the measure than against it, because he represented a borough which had gone beyond its own county for water. However that might be, in anything the promoters of the Bill might do in any area of that district, they would be bound to recognise the claims of Glamorganshire for their share of the water of the district. That statement, he submitted, met the point of the hon. Member. The question of a Welsh water supply, as opposed to a Thames water supply, was altogether independent of the question of authority or the question of purchase; it was a question of what was the best and purest source of supply; but whichever the best source might be, and the concensus of opinion was that the Welsh source was the purest, the question of what water should be brought into London could never be a purely financial question. It was considered by the Royal Commission on a financial basis, and the financial basis alone could not be regarded as an element of consideration. The promoters were also of opinion that the figures brought before the Royal Commission as to the cost of obtaining a supply from Wales were seriously erroneous, as had been shown in a letter to The Times by Mr. Shaw Lefevre. All the promoters asked was that the Bill should be sent upstairs to a Committee, which should consider the relative merits of the two sources of supply, not only from the financial point of view, but also on other bases.


only rose to reply to a statement made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who, as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board, might be expected to know something about the river. The hon. Member had asked what would happen if the County Council took the place of the water companies and obtained a supply from Wales instead of the Thames watershed, and had pointed out that the revenue of the Conservancy would almost disappear. It was almost time that the Thames Conservancy obtained its revenues from other sources than the water companies, and if they were to do that they would look more sharply after the companies. He also mentioned that according to the report for 1899 of the engineer to the Thames Conservancy, proceedings had been instituted last year in twenty-four cases for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act in respect of pollution, and sixteen convictions obtained against offending parties. To avoid this contamination, Londoners wanted to get their water from cloud land in Wales, where there were no effluents from sewage farms or house-boats.

MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)

stated that the Glamorgan County Council opposed the Bill on somewhat different grounds to those set forth by other hon. Members. They were vitally interested in the question, and, as they did not desire to acquire a monopoly over the watershed area, they desired to prevent a monopoly being granted to others. They opposed the Bill on the ground that powers so large ought not to be entrusted to one local authority, however important. They asked that the House would not give to the London County Council a first charge upon the natural resources of the Welsh counties. The second principle which operated against this Bill had reference to the case of counties and boroughs which were increasing in population from year to year, and were in close proximity to a watershed. Such local authorities had the first claim to the natural resources of the district. Those were two broad principles on which he ventured to oppose the treatment of this great matter by way of private Bill. He suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn for this year, and thus give time for the House to consider what the principles really were.


I merely rise for a moment in order to reply to the hon. Member for Hoxton; but before I do that I wish to say a word with regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Battersea as to the impurity of the supply from the Thames. It is very easy to quote from a report isolated passages which appear to support one's argument, but the balance of authority is entirely against the hon. Member. The whole of this question has been examined by two Commissions, both of which came to the conclusion that on the whole, the quality of the London water as supplied at present was admirable. The hon. Member for Hoxton has referred to something which I said at the close of my speech. The views that I expressed were that the question of the supply of water from Wales was a very important one, but not a matter of immediate urgency. What I think I said was that the proposal that the water authority of London should be in the field in time to secure the reversion of a water area in Wales is one for which I have a great deal of sympathy, and I think that would be an exceedingly proper subject for the consideration of the future authority who should have charge of the water supply of London. But it would be out of the question to entrust that duty to a body like the present body, with regard to which the House has just decided that it should not be the authority in the matter.


, in recommending the withdrawal of the motion, said that the London County Council had done their best to carry out their duty by the ratepayers and water consumers, and to solve this most difficult problem. They had been defeated and thwarted by the Government. The whole responsibility now lay on the Government to deal with the question. He himself was, however, looking to the past, not very sanguine that the Government would rise to the occasion and deal with the matter in a far-reaching or satisfactory way.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.