HL Deb 08 April 1818 vol 37 cc1210-2
The Earl of Shaftesbury

presented a Petition from the Grand Junction Water Works' Company, observing at the same time, that there was a measure in progress in another place, which would probably soon bring under the consideration of their lordships, questions connected with those which formed the subject of the present petition. It was stated among other things in the petition that the company had embarked a capital of 300,000l. in the concern; that they had been put to great expense, in consequence of the pavement act of last session requiring them to lay down iron instead of wooden pipes; that they desired only to obtain a fair profit on their capital; that they had been under the necessity of narrowing their operations, and concentrating their powers, in order to enable them the better to supply the inhabitants of the districts near their works with water, and to afford them security against fire; that they were surprised to find that what they had done in this respect had excited an alarm of their having entered into a combination with other companies, which was not true. The petitioners therefore prayed, that their lordships would be pleased to appoint a committee to inquire into their proceedings and conduct, under the act by which they were incorporated.

The Earl of Lauderdale

thought him- self called upon to take some notice of this petition. In consequence of what had been said a few days ago by a noble earl not then in his place, he had taken the liberty of stating his opinion on what appeared to him to be very extraordinary conduct on the part of certain water works. These water-works, he understood, had, by agreeing to form a junction, violated that principle of fair competition, to establish which had been the object of parliament in passing the acts by which they were incorporated. The day after he had stated his opinion on this subject, he had received a letter from a gentleman, who, he understood, was the secretary of the petitioners, in which that gentleman expressed his surprise that any statements of the kind should have been brought forward under a total want of information. Though this was not precisely the way in which a member of that House ought to be addressed in reference to any subject which he might feel it his duty to notice, yet he thought it right to see the writer of the letter, and had some little conversation with him. The result, however, was that instead of finding his prerious opinion wrong, he was more firmly convinced of the truth of the fact, that the companies had combined to divide the metropolis between them. The inhabitants suffered severely from this combination. He had received a letter from a householder in one of the districts supplied by these combined companies. This person had first paid 28s. a-year for his water, but another company offered to supply him for 24s. On his stating this to the company by whom he was served, they agreed to reduce their charge to 24s.; and at that rate he was regularly served, until the combination complained of took place, when the price was again raised to 28s. In that district of the metropolis with which a noble friend of his (the duke of Bedford) was particularly connected, he understood it was a general complaint of the tenants that they were confined to one water company. While there were two rival companies, there was some security that the public would not be imposed on; but as the matter now stood, a monopoly was established, and he was sure that their lordships must feel that it was impossible for them to consent to such a state of things, unless they meant to take into their consideration the supply of the metropolis with water, and to fix the fair price at which that first necessary of life ought to be sold to the inhabitants. It was not long since these companies had in vain applied for leave to consolidate their corporations; but they had now, by their own private arrangements, accomplished what parliament had refused to allow them to do. It appeared to him, that if ever there was a case proper for the deliberation of parliament, this was one. The noble earl who presented the petition had alluded to a proceeding in another place, which was likely soon to come under the consideration of that House. If the measure referred to did not come before their lordships, he could only say that they would not do their duty, if they separated at the end of the session, without some decision on this most important subject.

The Petition was ordered to lie on the table.