§ It being a Quarter past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order, No. 8, further proceeding was postponed, without Question put.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Sir W. PEARCE
I beg to move, to leave out the word " now," and at the end of the Question to add the words " upon this day six months."
566 I would like to ask for guidance as to four Bills on the Paper—the Metropolitan Water Board (Charges) Bill, the Thames Conservancy Bill, the Lee Conservancy Bill, and the Metropolitan Water Board (Various Po'wers) Bill. The first three are intimately concerned with the Debate which we are now starting, and as all three are of some importance it may be of advantage if discussion be permitted on the three Bills at the same time.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that there is no objection to that course. The circumstances dealt with in each are very much the same. The fourth Bill deals with different topics, and, therefore, will have to-stand on its own basis.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
I am very much obliged for your ruling. I hope that the House will hesitate before giving a, Second Reading to these three Bills. Yesterday the London Members were-asked to receive a Deputation from the Metropolitan Water Board, the London County Council, the City, and the Metropolitan Boroughs, and it was pointed out with great force that these Bills are the result of an inquiry by the Rates Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Transport, at which these bodies were not heard, and they feel it a distinct grievance that on an issue of this magnitude they had not an opportunity of stating their own case. Taking the Thames Conservancy Bill, they propose to charge-London, instead of a contribution of £45,000 a year, £112,500. The Thames Conservancy I understand have budgetted for next year that the problematical expense is £130,000. They ask the Metropolitan. Water Board to contribute £112,500. The case of the Lee Conservancy is not quite so startling, but there is a large increase of from £8,000 to £20,000. It really means, especially in the case of the Thames Conservancy, that the Metropolis of London, the London County Council, and the London boroughs are asked to assume almost the whole of the total: expenditure of this bod.y. I was present at the deputation, and felt that there was great force in the contention of these bodies that they had not been heard, and the suggestion that the House of Commons ought not to pass a. Bill of this description is one which it was difficult to resist. They suggested that inquiry by the Rates Advisory Committee was not a sufficient inquiry, that there ought to be a public inquiry, possibly 567 by a Select Committee of this House, to examine the whole position before charges of such vital importance to the Metropolis were allowed to be introduced into this Bill.
No sooner had this deputation finished than the London Members received a deputation from the London Chamber of Commerce and the London manufacturers, and they pointed out with regard to the Metropolitan Water Board Bill that, over the charges that would result from an inquiry by the Ministry of Health, they have had no opportunity of stating their case. The Bill was really a relief of ratepayers at the expense of consumers, and did not get rid of the opportunity to make a deficiency rate. Here, again, is a question of supreme importance to the London Chamber of Commerce and the manufacturers and industrial London. They have never been heard by the Ministry of Health, and they agreed also that this House ought not to pass Bills of this description when the parties who were so intimately concerned as the London Chamber of Commerce and the London manufactory had no opportunity of stating their case. The result was that all these deputations ask the House of Commons not to pass the Second Reading of these Bills, but to put them all back one year in order to allow for a full inquiry into the conditions and factors which govern these Bills.
I have been in this House a good while, and had a considerable share in such matters, and I remember that there was a stiff fight in 1911 over the charges of the Metropolitan Water Board. The position with regard to consumers and London generally is most disappointing. In 1902, when the Metropolitan Water Board was established, they were absolved for twenty years from all obligation to provide a sinking fund, and the Local Government Board of that day imagined that the conditions were so favourable that at the end of twenty years they would be able to provide for a sinking fund without any further charge to the consumer. To-day we find" that when a sinking fund comes into being next year there will be an extra charge which the Metropolitan Water Board will have to meet. Instead of being in a position to provide for this new charge on the undertaking there is already a 568 deficiency of £530,000 on last year's working which is covered by a deficiency rate. In 1911, when there was a stiff fight in this House, the charge which the Metropolitan Water Board secured was 5d. on the rateable value, and from 6d. to lid. per 1,000 gallons on industrial water. The Bill to-day proposes to give them permission to raise the percentage on rateable value from 5 to 10 per cent., and raise the charge on industrial water per 1,000 gallons from 6d. and lid. to 2s., and at the same time they ask the House of Commons still to give them the power to make a deficiency rate on the whole of London.
There has been certain negotiations which have led to serious alarm in industrial and commercial circles in London. In the old Bill the large consumers were recognised and given certain concessions. In 1911 it was recognised that the lower expenditure on industrial water for distribution, collection and the avoidance of waste, entitled industrial water to certain concessions, but to-day the whole of that is ignored, and it is pleaded by the chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board that they are not in a position to encourage industry. He even went so far as to say that they might be obliged to discourage it. They not only take powers to charge as much as 2s., but they ignore any special advantages for the consumption of large quantities. Under the old Bill in the case of industrial water the advantages in connection with distribution, collection and the avoidance of waste were recognised, and the more water was consumed by the industrial consumer the less was he charged. To-day they go on the opposite tack. They say, " We are not in a condition to encourage the industrial use of water, and although it may be cheaper to us to supply large quantities in this way, we do not intend to recognise that fact, and therefore we will make no difference in the charge, whatever may be the quantity consumed." One large manufacturer who appeared before the London Deputation yesterday told the London members that if the charges were enforced up to the maximum it would mean a charge on his undertaking of £20,000 a year. If that sort of policy and atmosphere is created, it means a discouragement of industrial operations within the radius of the Board. That seems to be the policy of the Bill. It 569 makes no recognition of the fact that without large industries a big population like that of the Metropolis cannot exist. It is forgotten that London is probably the largest manufacturing city in the world. The Bill's promoters give the industrial consumer no recognition. They go further, and regard him almost as a nuisance, and they say that in the interests of the general public it may be necessary to discourage him.
As to the River Lea Conservancy, it is proposed to treble the dues on the Lime-house Cut, and to abolish free water in another part of the navigation although manufacturers in that district have paid an enhanced price for their land because it carried the right to free water. That fact it is proposed to ignore. A large manufacturer came to me yesterday and told me that the dues of his company would be increased by about £500. For these and other reasons I regard with misgiving the proposal that the Bills should go to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. The details I have described may seem small compared with the issues we have been discussing to-day, but they are very important to the people concerned. If the three Bills go before a Joint Committee the details lose their importance. Such a procedure would be all in favour of the promoters and against the objectors. Moreover, unless a very strict time schedule was accepted by the, Joint Committee there would be no saving of expense. What I feel most strongly about is this: This is a time of most acute industrial depression. I have spent a long life in business enterprises, but I have never known times so difficult as those of to-day or a future so uncertain. So much is that so that every industry begins to think whether it will be able to weather the storm. The three Bills will do two things. They will raise the dues on the goods that are brought to the factories, and they will raise the cost of industrial water to a very sensible degree. There is a very large and important increase made in the standing charges of every business in the area covered by the Bill. I plead, therefore, that each of the Bills should be deferred for one year, and that in the meantime there should be a special inquiry into the conditions.
§ Mr. LYLE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am particularly concerned with the Metropolitan Water Board (Charges) 570 Bill. There are two particular reasons why the Metropolitan Water Board Bill should not be given a Second Reading. There are great dangers in sending the Bill to a Joint Committee. There is great danger on an evening such as this that many Members who have not heard the Debate will come into the House and, depending on the attitude of the Government, will support a Second Reading. The first reason for my opposition to the Bill has reference to the rate of payment by meter users. I am speaking more or less from the point of view of the large users of water, the manufacturers in London. Those who are taking water by meter are now paying on a graduated scale running from about 6⅛d. to 11d. per thousand gallons, according to the quantity taken. Taking the Board's own figures, the average cost of the whole water supply works out at about 8½d. They now propose to abolish this scale and to substitute for that a flat rate up to 2s. It has been argued—and it was argued yesterday upstairs before the London Members—that the manufacturers of London were trying to get water at below the cost of production, and no doubt that argument will be advanced to-night, but I think that one could show from the Board's own figures that in the past meter users were actually paying 20 per cent, more than the domestic users, and, taking the Board's own figures again, in 1919 the meter users paid 8.47d. and the domestic users 6.97d. The average cost of water supplied for 10 years was 8.39d., so it will be seen that the meter users were not getting their water below cost price, but were, in fact, paying the full cost, whereas the loss on the domestic supply was 1½d. per 1,000 gallons. I think that disposes once and for all of the statement that the manufacturers and large users of water supplied by meter were endeavouring to get water below cost, and if there was anything in the argument at all, it was on the other side. We argue that, instead of having paid more than the domestic user, the manufacturer should actually have paid less, because the cost of supplying water on a big scale must necessarily be less than the cost of supplying a great many small users.
Under this Bill the Metropolitan Water Board are seeking to double the domestic charge and to treble the meter charge. Hon. Members ought fully to grasp the significance of trebling the cost to the 571 meter users. This is no surprise to us who know something of this Board's methods, for it coincides with the avowed policy of the Board. There was a deputation from the London manufacturers which met the Metropolitan Water Board, and they were told by the chairman, in meeting assembled and in no uncertain terms, that it was for the trade to go where water was.
§ Mr. LYLE
That was the statement, and I challenge its contradiction. It was said it was for the trade to go where water was and that the job of the Metropolitan Water Board was the job of sup plying domestic needs. If that is the true state of affairs, there will be very little need for any domestic supply. I think the House should mark well this very rash statement which was made by the Chairman of the Water Board. Was there ever a more callous, cynical, and irresponsible statement made than that? This powerful and autocratic Board, who hold a monopoly of the supply of this commodity, so little realise their responsibility in this matter that they calmly say they care nothing for the trade of London. They no doubt see there are difficulties in the future in the way of getting an increased water supply, but, after all, it is their job to find the water that is necessary for the trade of London and to supply it, and it is not the job of the large manufacturers. It will be argued, no doubt, that their expenses have increased and that they are entitled to ask for increased charges for their water, and as far as the London manufacturers are concerned they are quite prepared to pay more and to be reasonable. They are reasonable people, but they think the charges proposed to be made are not reasonable at all. No doubt it will be put forward that, although they take powers to increase the charges to the meter users up to 2s. per thousand gallons—and it has been so argued—they do not intend to put these powers into force. Also, it is only fair to say that in the Bill it is expressly laid down that they have to show that their charges are such as would justify it; but, having said that, I think the House will see very clearly that it would be a very dangerous principle 572 merely to say that, because they do not propose in the meantime to charge 2s., and because they have to show that their costs justify 2s. before it can be charged, they should be allowed to go up to any such figure. We have had experience in the past of Government control, when cost did not very much matter, and we know very well how easy it would be in a very short space of time, with lax management and so on, to show that their charges were up to 2s.
There is another point that I wish to go into, and that is the costs. They say that their costs have gone up, and no doubt they have, but on their own showing the cost in 1920 was 9½d. per thousand gallons. I understand the statement will be made that the cost is now lid.; but why, in the name of goodness, should they ask for 2s. if the cost, even on their own showing, is only 11d. now? Surely we are now at the highest possible peak, and almost certainly prices will be reduced. It is not likely that the prices will go higher than lid., and therefore I think it is clear that a case is made out for not allowing such a charge as 2s. to be put into the Bill. We who speak for the large users of water ask for the retention of the scale. We think it is entirely fair that we should have a scale. The scale was expressly inserted in the last Bill by both Houses of Parliament, and I think it is an ordinary business principle that a large user and a large buyer should have the benefit of the cheaper rate. It is not that we ask for special facilities for getting something at a less price than a smaller man. It is simply the ordinary business principle we ask for, that when we buy in big quantities we should get the advantage of that opportunity to buy. It will no doubt be argued that the Departmental Committee which was set up by the Ministry of Health was against the scale, but when that Departmental Committee was set up nobody knew much about it at the time. The manufacturers and large users were not heard at all.
My second point in objecting to this Bill, apart from those charges, is the provision under which the Board can limit the user to 500,000 gallons per day. That limitation was no doubt an ample one in the old days, but it is entirely obsolete to-day. There are many users up and down the Eiver Thames who need far more than that quantity, and I do not think any such limitation should be put 573 in. Gasworks, for instance, take millions of gallons per day, and many users need far more than 500,000 gallons. If such a clause were inserted it would mean that a large amount of the gas supply of London would be cut off. No doubt it will be argued that all these points can be thrashed out in Committee, but I do think it is for some of us who really know what is going on to raise our voice in this House and to let Members know the position. I do think in these difficult times, when so much is being put upon large manufacturers generally, the House should not allow this autocratic body, which already has large powers and no competition, to charge these greatly increased prices and, by so doing, cripple the trade of London.
§ Mr. KILEY
I hope the House will see its way to give a Second Eeading to the Bill promoted by the Metropolitan Water Board. Strange as it may seem, this is not a proposal by a public body for the purpose of increasing its income. All it is asking the House to allow it to do is to alter its method of collecting its revenue. At the present time the Board is restricted by Act of Parliament from charging more than 5 per cent, on the assessable value of the premises it supplies, but if the income is proved to be insufficient to meet its outgoings, it has power to levy a rate on the local bodies which come under its area. It has been suggested that it is not the best method o'f collecting its income to have a dual way of so doing: that it would be far better that the restriction of 5 per cent, should be removed, allow the same revenue as at present received to be collected in one way instead of two, and allow the Metropolitan Water Board to increase its rates to any amount that may be necessary for its revenue. That revenue need not be larger than it is. In fact, the Board do not anticipate being called upon to provide any amount in excess of what it is at present receiving; but what it is asking the House to do is to give it power to collect its revenue by one method instead of two as at present. That applies to the domestic supply, which is the bulk of its supply.
It is perfectly true, as the last speaker has stated, that the Board does supply a certain quantity by meter, but, after all, it is very small indeed in proportion to the total. Some users have got their water by meter at a cost of 6fd., and others have 574 had to pay as much as lid. It has been suggested by the Board that it is not a proper thing for a public body to charge one consumer 6½d. and another consumer 11d. It is quite true that 6½d. was given to the very largest users, and then there was a graduation to 11d. for smaller supplies, and it is being urged that it costs the Board considerably less to supply a larger consumer than it does to supply a smaller consumer by meter. That may be true to a very minute extent, but very often it works out quite the other way. In order to supply water in large bulk to a certain user you have to put down larger mains, and the cost is out of proportion to the revenue received. While it is conceded that there might possibly be some small saving, there is no justification whatever, so the Board is advised, for supplying water in one case at 6⅛d. and in another at 11d. If the users want to argue that point, it is suggested that the Committee would be the right and proper place for that to be thrashed out, because the Board does not want to increase revenue, nor does it want to charge users of water any more than what it actually costs the Board to supply. That is the principal factor. The Board is not out for profit. It does not want to make a profit; all it is out for charging is the actual cost.
There has been a suggestion that the Chairman of the Board, in some remarks which he made, led the users of water by meter to believe that the policy of the Board was that it would not give the necessary supplies, and had no desire to serve water by meter. I am not, of course, responsible for the remarks which the Chairman may make, but, as a member of the Board, I would say at once that that is not the policy of the Board. The policy of the Board is clear and definite. In no case have they ever refused, although they have the legal power to refuse, to supply more than a certain quantity of water. The Board to-day is actually supplying nearly double the quantity of water to the individual consumer that it ia under any legal obligation to supply, and that is coupled with the fact that it has never refused to supply any manufacturer with water. The Chairman did, as a matter of fact, make a statement to the effect that if there were a very big increase in the number of factories which were taking large quantities of water in the London area, it 575 would be in the distant future a problem of some importance. To-day that does not exist, and ithe evidence of the Board's good intention in that direction is what I have just stated, that it never refuses to supply, but is, in fact, supplying without limitation any reasonable request made, at a considerable sacrifice, and by having used up funds which are derived from the domestic provision in order to increase its plant and the mains necessary for its purpose.
In regard to the suggestion that perhaps the Board might waste its funds, I do not think I can do better than refer Members of the House to the report published about 12 months ago of a committee appointed by the Ministry of Health to investigate the Board's working and expenditure. After a very close investigation the Water Board did, in fact, receive a testimonial from that committee to the effect that the Board was well managed. Beyond making a few suggestions which are embodied in the Bill now before us, nothing was suggested. The proposals in the present Bill are practically the recommendations of that committee appointed by the Ministry of Health. Therefore, I suggest that the Government might well give a Second Reading to this Bill. As to the question of whether it is advisable to alter the arrangement as to the 6½d. to the 11d. and make one uniform Charge, that matter can be argued in Committee, and the Board will accept the decision of the Committee and will do their best to carry it out. They have, as a matter of fact, put in the Bill power to levy a rate of 2s. The only object of fixing this 2s. was that if they had fixed the amount at 11d. and it had been by any means necessary to make it 1s. the Board would have had to promote a new Bill here. In the event of the cost being less, the Board will charge less. For the Board is not out to make a profit, but only to receive a revenue to meet the outgoings. The 2s. is a matter of precaution put into the Bill to save the necessity of coming repeatedly to the House for new powers. If the 2s. be considered excessive the Board is willing to accept a lower figure, but it suggests that the Committee is the proper place for that to be thrashed out. I, therefore, invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I rise as a London Member to oppose the Second Reading of the Metropolitan Water Board (Charges) Bill. I think the House ought to know something of the history of the Metropolitan Water Board's undertaking as regards the water supply of London. The Metropolitan Water Board was established under a Bill passed by this House in 1902. It is composed of 66 members, who-are elected from the various local authorities in London and Greater London, which is included in the area of the watershed of London. The Board took over the old water companies and paid them £46,939,914. This is not the place now to express one's opinion or views about the amount paid, but I am one of those London Members who have always thought that the Board paid a considerably larger amount than they should for the undertakings of the old water companies. They floated a loan to pay for these undertakings. Owing to the fact that it was issued at a discount, they only got £43,000,000.
Having come into the undertaking, and having examined the charges made by the old water companies, the Metropolitan Water Board came to this House and promoted a Bill for new charges. In that Bill they made a rate on the water consumer—who is the person I am mostly interested in, the ordinary Lofodon water consumer—of 5 per cent, on the rateable value, but included in the Bill what was called the right to make a deficiency rate on tho rates of London. That meant that if their own rate which they levied of 5 per cent, on the water consumer was not sufficient they had the right to come to the London ratepayer for any deficiency over and above the income received from the water consumer. A strange thing about the conduct of the Metropolitan Water Board is this, that only in three years have they made a profit over and above the income. These profits were £2,288 (1905–6), £26,500 (1906–7), and £933 (1907–8), respectively. Every year since then they have 'made a deficiency. I do not want to weary the House with too many figures, but may I say that in 1908–9 the deficiency was £25,279. In 1918–19 the deficiency was £530,785, and the estimated deficiency (approximately) for 1919–20 is £964,852. That is the amount of the deficiency to be paid by a rate on the general ratepayer of Lon- 577 don, in addition to the water-rate paid by the water consumer as a water charge.
One other point in connection with this deficiency rate, I think, the House ought to know: we have in London what is called a quinquennial valuation. The Water Board depends for its income upon the rateable value of London, and they always get the advantage, every five years, of any increased value which the quinquennial value gives to London. In 1906 the rateable value of London was £43,800,000; in 1911 it was £44,897,000; in 1916 it was £45,401,000; and last year the quinquennial valuation, operative as from 1st April of this year, was £48,702,000; so that with all the advantages of increased valuation they have still made this deficiency rate on London. What this Bill proposes to do is to double the percentage rate on the ordinary water consumer in London, who, instead of paying 5 per cent. upon his rates, will in future, if this Bill goes through without any alteration, be liable to be charged 10 per cent. on his rateable value. My hon. Friend, the Member for Whitechapel, stated that this is going to be no extra charge upon the water consumer. I venture to suggest to the House that it is going to be a very grave extra charge upon the ordinary water consumer in London. As that ordinary consumer is largely composed of small ratepayers, the person who is a small ratepayer and the occupier of a small house is going to pay a very considerable amount more for his water in the future.
I followed the argument of the hon. Member for Whitechapel, and I have listened to several deputations on this point. We were told that the ratepayers of London would not pay any more because they are now paying a 5 per cent. water rate, plus a deficiency rate. May I give the House a few figures which, I think, will prove clearly that under this Bill the ordinary water consumer is going to pay a considerably extra amount. Take the ordinary house rated at £20 yearly. To-day the occupier pays 5 per cent., or £1 a year, for water. The deficiency rate of last year was as near as possible 4d. in the £, which makes 6s. 8d. for deficiency rate, or a total water rate of £1 6s. 8d. This Bill proposes to give the Metropolitan Water Board power to increase that to £2. I say that is going to be a very excessive and monstrous charge on the small occupier and small 578 water consumer. You take a £30 ratepayer who pays 30s. now and a deficiency rate of 10s. brings it up to 40s., but under this Bill he will have to pay £3. A £40 ratepayer who now pays 40s. and a deficiency rate of 13s. 4d. brings it up to 53s. 4d., and under this Bill he will have to pay £4. A £50 ratepayer who pays £2 10s. now and a deficiency rate of 16s. 8d. can be charged up to £5 under this Bill. These are charges which deserve a protest from London Members. In addition to that, in this Bill they still retain the right to impose a deficiency rate. This means that you give the Water Board the right to charge 10 per cent. on rateable value for water rate, and you still give them the right of coming on the ratepayers of London in the water area to pay a deficiency rate for any amount that the Water Board may choose to assess. If you give a Second Reading to this Bill with a right to charge up to 10 per cent. and a deficiency rate that is not a measure which is going to make the Water Board act economically, in fact it invites them to extravagance, because there is no limit to the way in which they can spend their money.
I am not an admirer of the Water Board because I think it is a very extravagant and a very wasteful body. Everybody knows that until quite recently they spent a very great deal of money in building offices in Rosebery Avenue, and it is the opinion of a good many people that those offices were not necessary. One of the points which was considered by the Departmental Committee was the cost of collection. The Metropolitan Water Board in every local Government area keep up their own collectors and they have an expensive system of collecting their rate. Offers have been made to collect their rate in conjunction with the local rate, but that proposal has always been declined by the Water Board. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) referred to the findings of the Departmental Committee. It is true that such a Committee was set up by the Ministry of Health, but it is not true, as the hon. Member said, that this Bill carries out all the recommendations of that Committee. The two main conclusions of that Committee are:(1) We are disposed to consider that a reduction in the number of members of the Water Board would add to its efficiency.579 There is no provision in this Bill which carries out that recommendation. The second recommendation is:(2) We recommend that the Water Board should appoint and pay some person to perform the function of general manager, who will devote his whole time to the affair of the Board so as to secure co-ordination of general policy, and the fullest consideration of all questions affecting the Board and of the problems which will have to be faced in the future.Nothing has been done to carry out those recommendations, and it is quite useless for Members of the Water Board to come here and suggest that this Bill is carrying out the recommendations of the Departmental Committee when no attempt has been made to carry out those two most important recommendations. The statement has been made that this Bill is not going to increase the income of the Water Board. In my opinion this new rate is going to increas the income of that Board very considerably. The income of this Board in 1918–19 from domestic water rates and other fixed charges was £2,232,011, and the deficiency in the same year was £783,000. If you give this Board the power to double the charge, then they can raise an extra £2,232,000 as against a deficiency of £783,000.
With reference to some of the things which the Water Board have not done, they have taken no power to charge the outside areas where they make bulk supply agreements under the old Act to increase their charges. May I give one case? On the establishment of the Board they received from Croydon a sum of £225,810 for the purchase of their undertaking within the borough, and they had to supply water at the price of 2⅛d. per 1,000 gallons for 500,000,000 gallons. This was fixed in 1904 for a period up till 1934. I suggest that we have no right to supply water in bulk to Croydon at this very cheap rate. If this charge of 10 per cent. is to be made on the London water consumer it is quite fair in a Bill of this kind to make people like Croydon, who take these supplies of water, pay an increase at the same rate as the increase to the London ratepayer. The Member for Stratford (Mr. Lyle) has referred to the deputation of London manufacturers which waited upon the Water Board to see if they could get an 580 agreement in regard to bulk supply. On this point, what the hon. Member has said is quite true. A representative committee of London manufacturers interviewed the Chairman of the Water Board and other members of the Board and asked them to deal with this particular grievance. I think it is quite fair to assume that when the Chairman of the Water Board replies to such a deputation that he is giving the views of the Water Board itself. I have here a shorthand note of that conference, and I will read what the Chairman of the Water Board said, because he made an astounding statement, for he said:It was not part of the duty of the Metropolitan Water Board to supply water for trade purposes. Their duty was to carry out a great public health service, and it must not be assumed that they wanted to supply water for trade purposes at all. Their main duty was to supply water for domestic use, and the supply of water for trade purposes was a matter of indifference to the Board. He must repeat that with regard to the graduated scale this did not originate with the Board, but with the Departmental Committee, and in introducing their Bills they had merely translated into Parliamentary language the findings of that Committee, and it stated that water was not to be supplied to anyone at less than cost price.In reply to one of the manufacturers, the chairman of the Water Board said:The policy of the Water Board was not to encourage the supply of water for trade purposes. Manufacturers, both existing and prospective, must not look upon London as suitable for manufacturing purposes. The time would come when the Board would have to discourage supplying water for trade purposes.Another member of the deputation asked if it was the policy of the Water Board to check the trade of London, and whether they were to understand that if the Water Board failed to bring water to the manufacturers then the manufacturers would have to go to the water, and the chairman replied:The Board would not be prepared to agree to a sliding scale. Indeed, it would be most difficult for them to do so in the face of the express recommendations of the Departmental Committee. He would again repeat that it was the duty of the Board to provide the domestic consumers of London with a commodity which was by no means limitless, and when the supply available from the Thames watershed became exhausted they would have to go elsewhere.Later on he said:There was no invidious discrimination, and he thought they were supplying water 581 to the non-domestic consumer on very advantageous terms. As far as his information went, in no town or city in England, Scotland or Wales was water of the quality supplied by the Metropolitan Water Board supplied for trade purposes on such advantageous terms. It might be in the future that manufacturers on the Thames would be required to draw their supplies direct from the Thames and purify it themselves, and no doubt there was plenty of water available under these circumstances.I was amazed, as a London Member, to read that the Chairman of a London authority responsible for the water supply to the enormous manufacturing interests in London should have made a statement like that to a deputation of London manufacturers. We know that London depends very largely on its manufactories. We have hundreds and thousands of them. We are the largest manufacturing city in the British Islands, and I always understood that provincial water authorities did everything they could in order to encourage the manufacturers in their districts. When you have the Chairman of the London Water Authority talking like this it is time that some of the London Members protested against the statements he made to the London manufacturers. May I mention one other point which I think proves absolutely the unreasonableness of the Metropolitan Water Board. The Thames Conservancy Bill, which is down for Second Reading to-night, asks for an extra amount to be paid it by the Water Board. When this was considered by the Thames Conservancy, as a public authority in London they were anxious not to waste public money in fighting the Bill in Parliament, and they approached the Water Board and invited it to meet them in conference on the question. Members must recollect that it has already been decided twice by Parliament that the Metropolitan Water Board should pay a certain amount to the Thames Conservancy for the water they extract from the River Thames, and Members of this House, interested in rating will appreciate the action of the Thames Conservancy in trying to obtain an agreement with the Water Board as to the extra amount to be paid. This is the letter which was sent by the Secretary to the Metropolitan Water Board to the Thames Conservancy under date 23rd September, 1920:Your letter of the 28th July has been laid before the Law and Parliamentary Committee of the Water Board, to whom it appears that the object of the proposed con- 582 ference is to discuss an increase in the statutory payments made to the Conservancy by the Board. My Committee desire to advert to my letter to you of the 7th May last, stating that any proposal to increase the statutory payments would meet with the Board's determined opposition and to state that as the proposed conference would be unlikely in these circumstances to achieve any satisfactory purpose they are not in a position to accept the invitation of the Conservancy.When the Conservancy Board decided to promote the Bill in Parliament they sent this further letter to the Metropolitan Water Board under date 17th December, 1920:Referring to the recent correspondence which has taken place between yourself and the Secretary of the Conservators, I am desired to send herewith for your information a copy of the Thames Conservancy Bill which has been deposited by the Conservators for introduction in the ensuing Session of Parliament, and they take this opportunity of stating that, whilst the Conservancy note with regret that your Law and Parliamentary Committee do not see their way to accept the Conservators' invitation to a conference, they will still be happy to consider any further suggestion in that behalf which the Water Board might see fit to put forward.To that letter they never received any answer. I put it, that a public authority which acts on these lines in connection with a Bill promoted by another public authority deserves to have its action carefully scrutinised by this House. I think hon. Members will see, in view of the facts I have given, that I am strongly opposed to the Metropolitan Water Board Bill, and I hope I have given the House several good reasons for opposition to that Bill. I am a London Member. The London Members have a group which meets to consider all Bills affecting London. Members who were in this House during last Session will agree with me that, in regard to the Underground Railways Bill and the Metropolitan Fares Bill, pretty effective work was done by us from a London point of view. We discussed this Bill before the group of London Members some weeks ago, and received deputations from various interests connected with these Bills, and, as a result of our conferences upstairs, we came to the conclusion that, in view of all the interests concerned and in view of the necessity for saving all public expense possible at the present time, the best thing to do would be to refer all these Bills to a Joint Committee of Parliament. If hon. Members will look at the Order Paper, they 583 will see that for some weeks past there has been a notice upon it, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) and myself, of a Motion to the effect that all these Bills should be sent to a Joint Committee. That proposal was agreed to, I will not say unanimously, but it was carried by a great majority of the London Members present at our conferences. Strongly as I feel against the Metropolitan Water Board Bill, I am convinced, after considering all the points I have placed before the House to-night, that the best solution of the difficulty is for all these Bills to go to a Joint Committee where the points which they raise can be fully discussed, where the promoters of the Bill can be made to state their case for the measure, and can be properly cross-examined before the Committee. Therefore, although I feel strongly that the Metropolitan Water Board Bill should be rejected on the Second Reading, I have come to the conclusion personally that if the Second Heading is carried by the House it would be better it should be agreed that all these Bills, which deal with matters very much interwoven, should be sent to a Joint Committee, and therefore I hope the House, supporting the decision of the London Members, will agree to the Motion which stands in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means.
I am not at all surprised to hear the speech just delivered. I am an old member of the Water Board, and it seems to meitwas brought in under a very unlucky star. From the very first day it came into existence it inherited the hostility of the London County Council. It was in opposition to their scheme for bringing water from Wales that the Metropolitan Water Board is established, hence the hostility of the members of the London County Council which we have had to experience ever since. I had thought that this Bill was so simple that it would pass through without any difficulty whatever. Its object is to amend the Metropolitan Water Board charges of 1907 and to enable the Board to derive from their charges for water supplied sufficient revenue to cover their expenses without having to resort to a deficiency rate. The Board's operations are not carried on for profit, therefore there is no reason why they should advocate any- 584 thing more than their necessary charges. This Bill will not increase the revenue of the Board, because we have complete powers at the present time to obtain full revenue from the rates, if not from the water charges. The Bill will simplify matters considerably. It will do away with the unbusinesslike method of creating a deficiency rate, and therefore with the great objection of many local authorities, who find it very difficult now to precept in proper proportion for the rates of their district. It will be a very great advantage to the local authorities. The Bill has been formed to distribute the burden equitably between the domestic consumers and those supplied by measure, the object being to secure that the consumer of water by measure will pay for the water at the cost that the Board will have to pay. That is easily ascertained, and no meter-holder may be afraid that he will be charged in excess of what it actually costs the Board to supply the water. At the present time the domestic rate is 5 per cent, on the rateable value of the house, and the water-meter is charged at 6⅛d. up to 11d. The cost of supplying 1,000 gallons of water to-day is considerably over 11d. Therefore these large consumers of water are really receiving water at the cost of the domestic consumer.
The Board was established in 1902, and it was bound in 1907 to introduce a Bill to equalise the charges throughout its area. During the passage of that Bill Amendments were introduced in this House which imposed various obligations upon the Board, reducing to less than the cost the price charged for the water in many districts. The minimum charge authorised by the Act in 1907 for domestic supply was 5 per cent. on the rateable value, premises valued at over £300 having a rebate. The non-domestic supply, as I have pointed out, was 6⅛d. for large amounts and 11d. for small consumers. There is also an obligation upon the Water Board that all water for extinguishing fires and such like shall be provided free. In the case of 100,000 gallons of water at 11d., the Act of 1907 reduced the revenue to such an extent that for the last year, 1919–1920, the deficiency rate alone amounted to £984,867.
Wages have gone up considerably, the cost of coal has gone up considerably. Everything that is used, material and otherwise, by the Board has gone up to a considerable degree. In this coming half-year the deficiency rate or the amount of the deficiency will be something like £1,250,000. Will any body of business men say that it is right to pay part of that in water rate and the other part from the local rates? That is the reason why this Bill is introduced. It simplifies the whole thing and instead of charging on a double basis we shall be able to charge the consumer in a proper way. Therefore I sincerely hope the Bill will be read a Second time, and I would like again to point out that it will not increase the cost to the ratepayers or the consumer in any way. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No, because we have the power to-day, assuming that our deficiency is £1,000,000, to demand that £1,000,000 from the ratepayers.
It would be a great convenience to the local finances and the local authorities. The Board considered that this was the proper thing to do. So far as the supply of water is concerned, I am confident that there must be some misunderstanding with regard to the statement of the chairman, because our chairman is a most considerate man, and I am sure, as a business man, he would not make such a statement as has been suggested. There must be some misapprehension in the minds of hon. Members.
In accordance with Mr. Speaker's ruling, I wish to deal only with the second and third Orders on the Paper, although so far the Motion before the House only deals with No. 1. The Thames and the Lee Conservancy Bills propose, among other objects, to increase the payments receivable from the Metropolitan Water Board and the tolls received from those who use the rivers. In the case of the Thames Conservancy, the Metropolitan Water Board contribution is now standing at £45,000 a year and it will be aug- 586 mented to £112,500. In the case of the Lee Conservancy the present contribution of £8,000 will be changed to one of £20,000. I have an instruction on the Order Paper regarding both these Bills, which I have put down at the instance of the London County Council, to strike out the Clauses imposing these increased contributions. I can reassure my hon. And gallant Friend, however, by saying I think it most improbable that I shall move these instructions. The first and the best reason for which I shall not move them is that I think they will probably prove to be out of order, because, if a Bill goes to a Joint Committee, it is not in order that this House should pass a mandatory instruction. In any case, however, I should be reluctant to move such an instruction, because I realise that under present conditions it would probably—in fact, certainly—reduce both these conservancies to insolvency. But I hope the Committee will scrutinise very jealously the necessity for this greatly increased expenditure for which the Bills provide, and will see that the conservancies do not charge capital expenditure upon the ratepayers in their annual charges. Still, I hope that, if we are met in the way that I shall suggest, the Bills may get a Second Reading. The trouble is that a Private Bill Committee cannot deal with the larger grievance of the London ratepayers, because the Committee would not be able to go outside the Preamble of the Bill. The London grievance is that, whereas the up-river populations enjoy, in a far greater degree than the Metropolis, the amenities of the river, these up-river populations subscribe not one farthing to the upkeep of the river. Apart from the tolls and rates on boats and barges, the whole of the revenue for the 136 miles of navigable river under the Thames Conservancy is derived from the London ratepayers; and the question of the fairness of this contribution, and of its being widened to include a contribution from other people who profit by the amenities of the river, has never, at all events in recent years, been heard. Last year a Committee was set up under the Ministry of Transport Act—the Rates Advisory Committee—upon whose recommendation these two Conservancy Bills have been founded—
I beg pardon. The Thames Conservancy Bill has been founded upon it, but I think I may also say that the Lee Conservancy Bill is founded on it to this extent, that it adopts exactly the same method of taking the pre-War charge and increasing it by 150 per cent. I suspect that, if it had not been for the strong Report of the Rates Advisory Committee, we should not have found the Lee Conservancy bringing forward a Bill with an exactly corresponding provision. The, Rates Advisory Committee was only empowered to consider the question of tolls and charges, and Mr. Gore-Browne, the Chairman of the Committee, at the opening of the proceedings, informed the representatives of the Metropolitan Water Board that the question of the Board's contribution was outside the purview of the inquiry. The Metropolitan Water Board, therefore, withdrew, because they had no locus.No doubt the Chairman of the Committee was absolutely right, and was only empowered to consider the Thames Conservancy in its functions as controlling an inland navigation undertaking. Unfortunately, however, in spite of having ruled out this evidence, the Committee did express an opinion on this matter of the London contribution, saying that it would not in their view be feasible to rate localities and houses in the up-river area, which, apparently, they considered were entitled to exemption bcause they had to face expenditure for the purification of the water. It is certain that, if the Metropolitan Water Board had been heard, they would have been able conclusively to show that London is doing exactly the same, and that a colossal sum is being spent year by year by London to keep the lower reaches of the Thames free from pollution. As a matter of fact, the whole of the purification which is done in the Thames Conservancy area is done to comply with the conditions imposed by the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876, and if there were a lower standard of purity, both the navigation and the health of the river under the control of the Thames Conservancy would undoubtedly suffer.
All that I want to do is to show that there is a prim00E2 facie case for hearing the London claim that a wider basis should be fixed for this rating contribution. The London grievance is not against the toll payer but against the local 588 authorities, who, so far, have escaped any contributions whatever. I will not deal in detail with the Lee Bill, but will only deal briefly with the Thames Bill, because the considerations affecting both Bills are very much the same. London is the only rating authority which contributes to the Thames Conservancy. That system has grown up gradually, and is, no doubt, due to the fact that the Metropolitan Water Board has inherited the undertakings of companies trading for profit, whereas Oxford, Reading, and other riverside communities have never had anything to do with these private undertakings, and have not inherited these burdens which were quite rightly placed on that form of private enterprise. The result is that none of the up-river communities like Reading, Oxford, Kingston or Windsor pay anything towards the Thames Conservancy. The towns in the Thames Conservancy area have a population of 350,000 and an assessable value of £2,750,000. The Thames runs also through seven counties, and those counties pay nothing either, although they have representatives on the Thames Conservancy far outnumbering the representatives of the London County Council, which has to find the money. Although the Metropolitan area finds five-sixths of the money, it has only a small proportion of the control. These up-river areas have a rateable value of £24,000,000; that is to say, the produce of a 1d. rate would be £100,000 a year. London is to pay, under this Bill, a ½d. rate to produce this £112,000. If the up-river area paid a ½d. rate, that would bring in £50,000, and would mean a very great alleviation of the burden borne by London. It is obvious that it is unfair that London should have to pay a ½d. rate for the upkeep of tow-paths, weirs, and locks up-river for the amenities enjoyed by the populations there and for the conservation of water power for the mills up-river, to which the riparian population do not contribute a farthing. The London claim is that there should be an inquiry into the whole question, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport whether he can set up, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, an Inter-departmental Committee to consider the whole question of contribution towards the Thames and Lee Conservancies on the part of rating authorities. If the hon. Gentleman could 589 promise to set up such an inquiry I should be very glad to see these two Bills get their Second Reading and go to a Committee, though I should still hope that the Private Bill Committee would put a time limit in both Bills, so that after a reasonable period Parliament should have an opportunity of giving effect to the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee inquiring into the whole case. If the hon. Gentleman will give such an undertaking he will very much shorten discussion and ease the passage of these measures, and I think the House need have no fear that if such an Inter-Departmental Committee were set up the interests of all ratepayers, not only in London, but throughout the whole Thames area would not be fairly considered to enable the burden to be redistributed so that all those who benefit by the amenities of the Thames can pay a fair part.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I have been puzzled for days past to understand in what connection the ecclesiastical and rural district of Bury St. Edmunds could be so very interested in a matter concerning the Rivers Lea and Thames. Now the murder is out. The hon. and gallant Gentleman represents the views of the London County Council, for which apparently he has great admiration. I do not envy him his admiration, but I see that he is obsessed with the view which has been carefully inculcated into members of the London County Council sitting in this House, and that is that London should not continue to have all the good things, that is to say, the rateable obligations, but should share them with the towns up the river. There are two hon. and learned Friends of mine in this House who will make a very good case on behalf of the Thames, and will probably show conclusively that Oxford or Windsor or Reading should not be penalised for impounding water in the main for the benefit of London. Therefore, though to a certain extent I support the demands of the Thames Conservancy, my task tonight, like the triangular dual in "Midshipman Easy," is, while trying not to hit the Thames, to hit the waterworks, who are trying to raise their tolls to London consumers and yet keep their deficiency rate, while at the same time they are refusing to pay for the commodity they are selling. A more dishonest proposal was never made. 590 They come forward with all the effrontery in the world and say, "Give us a right to charge 10 per cent. in place of 5 per cent. and keep the deficiency rate which will insure us against any deficiency." The hon. Member (Mr. Kiley) and the hon. Member (Major Malone) said, in plaintive tones: "We are only out to supply water at cost price." I wonder how much has been added to the cost of the water as bought from the Thames and Lea Conservancies by reason of the inordinate and excessive salaries and war bonuses which have been paid to the staff and the higher officials, and the wasteful way in which that Water Board has administered its undertaking. If you were to take the amount of paper and printing that Board has incurred in going to every local authority, not merely in the county of London, but in the water-bearing areas of London, and circulating and stirring up and putting into their minds statements which are facts and some which are not in order, that they might come to the House and present an array of talent and strength which was going to overawe both the Thames Conservancy and myself as being the solitary representative of the Lea. But it has done nothing of the sort. It has only convinced me that the Water Board has no scruple. It does not mind what methods it adopts if it can get its aim, and as they treated the Thames when they suggested that the time had come to revise the question of water payments, so they have treated the Conservancy of which I am the vice-chairman.
This is not a question of a new principle. It might be well said that this House might be invited to reject the Bill if it contained a perfectly new principle, but the principle of making the water consumer pay for the water extracted from the Lea commenced in 1739. The New River was in the reign of James I. brought from near Hertford to London. The very wells of the New River have been for centuries the national supplies of the River Lea. In 1739, they paid to the New River Company an annual sum of £350. Again, in 1835, Parliament authorised a further contribution from the New River Company and also one from the East London Water Company. In 1852, further legislative sanction was given to the payment for taking water, and then again in 1855, in 1856 and in 1901. 591 In 1900, Parliament reaffirmed the right of the Conservancy to have money paid for the water extracted. The number of million gallons which are taken out of the Lea and supplied to the Metropolitan Water Board for the sum of £8,000 is relatively largely in excess of the money which is paid already to the Thames Conservancy for the water taken from that body. How can anyone say that no service is performed for this payment? We have to maintain the navigation on the river. In the case of the Lee it was a winding river in parts, and by an Act of George III a Board of Trustees were set up and the river had to be carried in canal and to be straightened in several places so as to make it fit for navigation. By reason of these works certain very heavy annual charges had to be maintained in order to keep the embankments both of the natural river and the artificial river secure and to preserve and impound the water for Londoners to drink, and the suggestion now is that you are to go on expending money to preserve and impound, apart from the purification of that water, which is made a marketable commodity and which is sold at a considerable price to water drinkers without any regard to the increased cost which you will have to pay for commodities and for labour at the present time.
Why is it that the Lee Conservancies are obliged to come to Parliament to ask that these contributions may be increased? Let me give a few of the items. As compared with the year ending March, 1914, the cost of works and maintenance, labour and materials only, had risen from £3,840 to £12,400. I turn to wages of collectors and lock keepers and others who are engaged at a weekly wage in the offices of the Conservancy, and they have risen from £2,501 to an estimate of £5,000. We have the inestimable privilege of going through the Borough of Poplar, which has earned world-wide notoriety in connection with rates. We have been too poor to follow the extravagant precedent set by the Metropolitan Water Board of adopting the Civil Service higher officers' bonus scheme. We have not been able to give the higher officers what has been demanded from us and wrung from us by those connected with all-powerful trade societies. We have been obliged by reason of that continual diminution in our 592 income to let our works get into arrear, and we have had difficulties in repairing and renewing lock gates and all the necessary buildings and plant which belong to a navigation such as this. Moreover, in order to preserve for London the utmost supply of water that can be done, some years ago we took over from a very well-known former Member of this House, Sir Walter Gilbey, a derelict river, the River Stort, which belonged to him, and which had passed into "private hands? why, I do not know ? under an Act of the early reign of George III., for it was constructed and Trustees appointed. The River Stort is a navigable river from its mouth at Ryehouse up to Bishop Stortford, and it is a very valuable river, because it travels through country which is capable of great things in the immediate future. We took over that river as a derelict river, and we have had to rebuild the locks and to dredge it, because it had almost silted up in some places. We have had to incur large costs, but we have succeeded in carrying forward our works and re-creating the river up to within a few miles of Bishop Stortford. I ask any hon. Member who is criticising the Conservancy for their present proposals in order to pay these charges to remember that they are not out for mere profit-making. They pay 300BD per cent. on one stock and 4 per cent. on another. That is the only income that is distributed to anybody. Therefore it cannot be said that they are a profit-making concern, and that the price for water for which they are asking is to go into the pockets of capitalists or private individuals. It certainly goes to that limited amount in that very modest rate of interest for the purpose of recouping those who have made an outlay in the shape of loans in years past.
It is all-important that we should preserve every gallon of water we can for the water drinkers of London. I remember the water famine of 30 years ago. That was a time which created the greatest anxiety, and it was one of the reasons why the Water Board came into existence, in order that they might be the owners of the whole of the waterway, so that in the event of a water famine in one district they would have supreme control and would be able to deal with the matter. We have been endeavouring to preserve to the best of our ability 593 every gallon of water by impounding it and by keeping the river from overflowing its banks. If these works were not carried out, not only would the river become derelict in one sense, but in times of excessive rainfall the floods would be so terrific that the whole countryside would be ruined. As my right hon. Friend's predecessor at the Ministry of Health knows, we have had recent investigations carried out at the expense of the joint counties through whose area the river runs, together with the borough of West Ham and the City of London, who have subscribed a fund for the purpose of surveying the whole valley in order to prevent the disastrous effects that have occurred even in recent years, but we have found that the cost is so terrific that it is impossible in the present state of the financial market to undertake the necessary works.
In the meantime we are asking for an income which is barely sufficient, even if the House gives us everything that we ask for, to enable us to carry out the work necessary for the safety of the localities from flooding and for the preservation of the water for London. I do earnestly ask that the House should give a Second Reading to this Bill. A point has been made by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) with respect to the proposed tolls. My hon. Friend is a trader and he is a trader on this very river. Does he know that in the case of every canal or waterway which during the War has been liable under emergency statutes to be controlled that the mere application of an order of the Ministry of Transport has enabled them to raise their tolls 150 per cent. Certainly they generally allowed 150 per cent. by Departmental order, and we have felt the absolute necessity of making the same ratio of increase in the case of tolls as in the case of water contribution in order that the traders should not say that we are treating them unfairly if we do not ask from the Water Board the same ratio increase that we are asking from the traders.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
If the power to treble the dues is a precaution without the intention to make them immediately operative, that is a different proposition.
§ Sir H. NIELD
My hon. Friend must give myself and my colleagues sufficient credit for the possession of such reason- 594 able business faculties as to prevent ourselves from cutting our own throats and depriving ourselves of traffic which otherwise would come. We are asking for power to charge tolls up to 150 per cent., but we are not likely to seek to enforce the power to our own loss. It is the fact that until the last two years, until we found that we were obliged to do it for revenue purposes, we have never charged the maximum toll under certain schedules which gave us the power to do it. That shows the reasonableness of our conduct in the past, and though we are bound to ask for this maximum now, it is not likely that we are going to kill the goose which lays the golden egg by charging an excessive amount of toll simply because we were entitled to do so.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
Do the Lee Conservancy intend to at once increase the dues on the Limehouse Cut three times, as the Bill gives them power? If so, they might lose revenue rather than gain.
§ Sir H. NIELD
It is a very complicated question. The Limehouse Cut was artificially cut many years ago to facilitate the entrance of vessels coming down the Thames from London. The entrance to the River Lee, and of other waterways down there, is very tortuous. It often gets silted up, and the result was that the Limehouse Cut was made and a special toll was placed upon it, because of the large expenditure which was incurred for the benefit of the traders of London. The Bow Creek, on the other hand, which is the other arm, and much more convenient for traders coming up the Thames in lighters and tugs, has hitherto been free of toll. I think that is because of some very ancient charters, probably accounted for by the presence in the old days of several abbeys or monastic establishments in the neighbourhood. Although the traders and the hon. Member (Sir W. Pearce) are complaining that it is now proposed to charge tolls in respect of the Bow Creek, and that they have bought their land upon the footing that they had a free river, they must remember that times have changed, that circumstances change, that places change, and that the Lee Conservancy has been for years expending considerable sums of money in dredging the Bow river voluntarily and making it navigable for the convenience of the people who have wharves on it. The Bill assumes this must add to their 595 revenue. They say it is only fair that the traders upon the Bow river should pay inasmuch as those which come through the Limehouse Cut pay an additional sum towards the expense of maintaining that river, because that expenditure is directly for their benefit. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees we had not the least intention of putting a burden upon traders they are not able to bear. I am sure my hon. Friend will find that those traders who have been so alarmed, especially that body of traders who have petitioned, and who are headed by the Brimsdown Lead Company, need not necessarily feel so alarmed. A more fabulous document than the statement which they have sent out to all the Members of this House I have never seen. I have a recollection of reading Baron Munchausen in my youth, but I venture to think that this is the nearest approach, to his adventures I have ever read in modern times. I would ask the representatives of this company wherever they may be to study the art of moderation in expression and to refrain in future from introducing into a twentieth century document statements which belong to the imaginative literature of the East.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir A. Mond)
During the discussion which has taken place, it has become more and more obvious that the main fact which led to the introduction of the Bill has not been challenged, namely, that the cost of raising water and distributing water has gone up like that of all other commodities. The position was reached that there was a deficiency of no less than £964,000 in the financial year in the Metropolitan Water Board on their annual working. That was a serious matter, and it was obvious that some steps had to be taken. It is well known to. Members of the House that the deficiency had to be met by a guarantee from the London County Council. That was a most unsatisfactory state of things, and it could not have been allowed to continue. The result of it was that my predecessor established a very strong Committee to inquire into the finances and methods of working of the Water Board. You will agree with me that it was a very competent Committee when I tell you the names: Sir Horace Monro, Sir F. T. Willis, Mr. E. A. Lees, Sir 596 Henry Thornton, and Sir Gilbert Garnsey. That very strong Committee inquired into this whole matter, and after a very careful and lengthened investigation issued the Report which has been referred to several times to-night. It came to the conclusion that the charge to the consumer must be fixed at such a point that the revenue estimated to be derived therefrom would, when the present deficeicny was cleared off, be sufficient to meet the expenditure of the Board.
§ Sir A. MOND
I am not quite sure. They went into the whole question. What they were required to do was to meet the immediate deficit, and also to inquire into the question of management, but I am not sure if they called any evidence from consumers.
§ Sir A. MOND
Ex parte, perhaps, but anyone knows that if you want to reestablish the finances of a concern you must raise your rates according to deficiency, and the fact that users complain of the charges being too high may be very interesting, but it does not help to meet the financial deficit.
§ Sir A. MOND
Regarding the question of extravagance, the Committee went very fully into that, and their report states that before the inquiry took place there had been some kind of vague suggestion of mismanagement on the part of the Board, but they had given the fullest opportunity to witnesses to criticise the administration of the Board, and they were able to say that no serious charges of mismanagement had been sustained. In fact, the impression which the Committee derived from all the evidence was that this great undertaking had been worked satisfactorily. That was a very high testimonial from such a competent body, and the Committee came to the conclusion which I have just stated, and it was on that conclusion the various charges in the Bill have been framed. I may say this, that we are discussing today the question of whether the Bill is to 597 have a Second Reading or not. It is for the Joint Committee to argue in greater detail the very important points that have been raised. It is obvious, as I have said, that to meet the deficit the rates must be raised substantially. That can only be done by legislation, and therefore it is only rational and logical that this House should give the Bill a Second Reading, and then refer it to a Joint Committee, while the various interests concerned will receive that fair and impartial hearing which Committees always give to these matters, and where the whole subject can be carefully investigated.
§ Mr. H. GREGORY
The position is a very peculiar one. The hon. Member who proposed a Motion that the Second Reading to be taken on this day six months, so far as I can gather, adduced no reason whatever in favour of this Motion, and nobody who has spoken since has anything against the Second Reading. Most of the Members have spoke strongly in favour, and for very good reasons. There can be no question that the preservation of the River Thames is the essential. No one doubts that the Conservancy have properly done their work of preserving the river, and there has never been any suggestion that they have acted extravagantly or improperly in their work. Their source' of income is statutory and of two kinds—tolls on merchandise and pleasure boats, and a contribution from the Metropolitan Water Board. In 1920 their income from those two sources was £62,000. Owing to the rise in the cost of materials and wages, and other expenses connected with the great War, the expenditure in 1920 was expected to be at least £130,000, leaving a deficit of £68,000, and in order to carry on their work and keep the Thames in order, so that the water might be drawn by the Metropolitan Water Board as pure as possible at the different pumping stations, they had to make provision for the expenditure of this £130,000. In order to do that they appealed to the Ministry of Transport to increase, their tolls, and after inquiry before the Rates Advisory Committee permission was granted by which they were enabled to raise a further income of from £15,000 to £17,000. To carry on their work last year they had to borrow from their bankers, and this year they will be in a worse position, because instead of spending £130,000 they will have to expend £150,000.
598 In those circumstances the money must be found to produce this revenue for them in some form or another. Under the Statutes now existing the only source to which they can go is the Metropolitan Water Board, and they come to this House with a Bill in which they ask that the contribution of the Metropolitan Water Board shall be increased from £45,000 to £110,000 to produce this money that is absolutely necessary in order that they may preserve the Thames from year to year. The objection is suggested, I understand, though it has not been raised in the House to-night, that it is unfair that that charge should be made on the Metropolitan Water Board—£110,000 for the right to draw off from the Thames 300,000,000 gallons of water a day in respect of which, I understand from the figures given to-night, the Metropolitan Water Board obtain a revenue of from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000. It is not necessary to enter into those details. Part of the duty, perhaps the chief duty, of the Conservators is to keep the River Thames as pure as possible. They provide against the pollution of the Thames over an area of 3,600 square miles, and the whole of the money is spent by them on purifying the water that flows into the Thames for the benefit of the Metropolitan Water Board. It may be that the Conservators are asking for too much, but that can be dealt with in Committee upstairs. But on the broad question in the case additional revenue has to be found and that the Metropolitan Water Board should find some portion of that there can be no question. On the question raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), there may be good grounds for much that he urges. I think it would be to the advantage of the Conservancy if the inquiry suggested were held, because the broader the area from which they could obtain their revenue the better for them. No reasons have been given why the Thames Conservancy Bill should not be read a Second time. In the event of the Bill being postponed for another year the conservators would be in a very serious position with regard to funds, and if for only a year the Thames were neglected and the pollution of the water was not provided against, it would be a very sad thing for the inhabitants of London and much worse for the consumers of water in the Metropolis.
§ Mr. NEAL
It may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words as to the Bills promoted by the Thames Conservancy Board and the Lea Conservancy Board. As to one matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce), the explanation is this: The Thames Conservancy Board, availing itself of the Ministry of Transport, applied to my right hon. Friend the Minister to be controlled for the purpose of increasing their charges. My right hon. Friend accepted that responsibility, and in pursuance of the Statute referred the question to the Rates Advisory Committee, which is created by the Statute and presided over by Mr. Gore-Browne, K.C. It is true that the Rates Advisory Committee did not inquire into the one matter mentioned by my hon. Friend, but the report shows that, after three days' hearing, they did advise that the tolls and charges should be increased, and that that would be futile unless at the same time some steps were taken to increase the contribution from the Metropolitan Water Board. They therefore advised that an application be made to Parliament for statutory powers to increase those charges. The inquiry which my hon. Friend desires can with great convenience be made by a Joint Committee of both Houses if this House assents to the Motion which stands in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Lee Conservancy Bill has not been under the consideration of the Ministry of Transport in the same way, but it will be the duty of my right hon. Friend to make his report to any Parliamentary Committee which is established, and it may assist the House in coming to a conclusion to give a Second Reading to these Bills if I indicate in a sentence or two the lines upon which my right hon. Friend proposes to report. In the first place, the present financial difficulty of statutory bodies is created by present high costs, and it is very much to be hoped and, I think, to be expected, that these costs will decline, and that the necessity for high charges will not be permanent. My right hon. Friend therefore proposes to report for the consideration of any Committee that deals with this matter, that these Bills should have a time limit fixed in them with reference to the extended charges which are fixed by them. Hon. Members who have made 600 themselves familiar with these two Bills may have noticed that by Clause 10 of the Thames Conservancy Bill they propose that the Conservancy itself should have the right to apply to the Minister of Transport for a revision of charges. The Government think that Clause is by no means in a convenient form. Any revision of charges ought not to be simply on the initiative of the Conservancy, but should equally be possible on the initiative of any other persons who are directly interested and affected in the matter, and a report to that effect will be presented to the Committee.
Then the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut. - Colonel Guinness) suggested that there ought to be some broader and wider inquiry as to the basis upon which the revenue for this Conservancy Board should be raised. With that the Committee, which has advised the Minister of Transport, is in agreement, and they suggest that there have been material changes in conditions and that it might be quite right now to revise the method of obtaining its revenue and consider points as to whether local authorities, through whose territory the river passes, might properly be asked to make some contribution. There are other matters of that description. I do not want in the smallest degree to attempt to prejudge these matters, but I am authorised to say, on behalf of my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Transport and Health, that when these Bills do receive Second Reading it is their in tention to set up an Inter-departmental Committee to take the broader question into consideration at an early date, and that report would be useful to Parliament, we hope, at any time when it became right to revise the charges in the light of the time limit which we venture to hope will ultimately find its place in this Bill. I hope that meets the views of my hon. and gallant Friend. These increases of statutory charges have now received the consideration of the House in quite a number of cases, with tramways, canals, tube railways, and other undertakings, and the revisions which have been made by the Ministry of Transport after full and due inquiry have, I think, received general satisfaction, and have, in fact, saved an enormous amount of public money in Parliamentary Bill expenditure. It is in the hope that a similar procedure may 601 ultimately find its way into these Bills that I ask the House to give them a Second Reading. Just one word of reservation. What I have said just now about a Joint Departmental Committee refers to the Thames Conservancy Bill. I am not quite sure whether it will be found possible to extend it to the Lee Conservancy Bill, over which the Minister of Transport has no direct jurisdiction at this moment; but if the inquiry into the one authority took place, it would certainly be of assistance in dealing with the other; and if it should be found possible and wise to include both authorities in the same inquiry by the same Committee, that course will also be adopted.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Lee has no such areas or towns as the Thames has.
§ Major WHELER
I have to record an objection by the Kent County Council. We have heard the London Members on various points and the Metropolitan Water Board, and I am asked by the Kent County Council to say that they object very strongly to Clause 4 in the Thames Conservancy Bill and a similar Clause in the Lee Conservancy Bill. Both Clauses add a large sum to the charges already put on, and the Kent County Council, who have an area concerned in the London Water Board, object very strongly to the proposals.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
On a point of Order. I should like to have your ruling regarding the statement made by the hon. Gentleman with regard to this Departmental Committee. The objection of London largely is that Windsor, Oxford, and Reading, for example, pay nothing towards the user of the water which they have from the Thames. It is now suggested that this Departmental Committee should be set up to inquire into the whole method of rating. I should like to ask whether it would be open to the Committee, if we give this Bill a Second Reading, to impose rates, for example, on Oxford, Reading, and Windsor? Will they have a locus standito be heard, and can any rates be imposed on those areas if we now give the Bill a Second Reading?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Without study, I cannot very well say, but I should think that they would not comply with the Standing Orders.
§ Mr. NEAL
On a point of Order. The Departmental Committee, I suggest with respect, has nothing to do with either of the Bills before the House. The Bills before the House will be committed either to a Committee of this House or a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Committee, which I have undertaken on behalf of the Government shall be set up, is one to operate after these Bills become law.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did not understand the question referred to the Departmental Committee. So far as the Joint Committee is concerned, it could not impose charges on the places mentioned, unless notice had been given.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)
I am rising a little earlier than I intended, because I understand the Prime Minister desires to make a statement on the Adjournment to-night, and the House will, I am sure, be greatly interested to hear what that may be. I have on the Paper a Motion to refer these three Bills to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I explained a week or two ago that I had obtained the assent of all the hon. Members interested in the Bill whom I could gather together to that course, so that I need not explain it any further. There is only one point in the Debate to which I should give some answer, and that was the contention of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) that these Bills could all be referred together, and a Select Committee set up to inquire into the subject. It does seem to me that a Joint Committee of the two Houses is a far more effective tribunal. In the first place, you are not discussing something in the air. You are discussing concrete proposals. Every party can be heard, themselves or through Counsel. The necessary witnesses, technical or otherwise, can be heard, and I can conceive no better tribunal for dealing with a matter of this kind than a Joint Committee. A Select Committee would be comparatively quite ineffective, and I therefore hope the House will support the course I suggest.
I make an appeal to the House to grant now a Second Reading to these Bills. May I once again say that in regard to a private Bill that the Second Reading is not the same as in respect to a public Bill. In the case of a private Bill it means sending it to Committee, and the duty of that Committee is to find the preamble proved or not proved. That is 603 really the effective Second Reading stage which can only be taken after the parties have been heard. One thing further, in the case of any petitioner shut out by the procedure that I suggest, I propose to follow up my Motion to-day by another Motion which will enable any petitioner who was reserving his rights to come in before the Joint Committee has started to do its work, and this will make it quite certain that no interested party with a proper claim will be without a hearing before the tribunal.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
In view of the statements made by the various speakers on the Government Benches and my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, I do not propose to trouble the House, and I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time, put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed.
§ Ordered, "That a Message be sent to the Lords to communicate this Resolution and to desire their concurrence."—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
§ Read a Second time, and committed.