§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
§ On Motion that the Report be received.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, he desired to see the provisions of this measure made to accord with its professed object—which it certainly did not at present—namely, the advantage and protection of the consumers of gas.
said, he had proposed an important Amendment in this Bill, but was told by the Chairman of Committees that the object aimed at had been secured by another measure—he referred to the means which were necessary for securing the accuracy of gas-meters. It was no use appointing an Inspector as to the quality of the gas or fixing its price unless the Inspector had power to examine the meters and see that they were in a just and proper state. Scarcely one in fifty of the gas consumers in town knew anything about gas-meters, and they were exposed to be charged very much more than they were fairly liable to pay if the meters were not correctly kept. It was easy in this way at once to raise the price of gas from 2s. or 2s. 6d. to 4s. 6d per 1000 feet.
said, that there was extreme difficulty in passing any Bill through the other House of Parliament if it touched the interests of gas, railway, or water companies. The moment a Bill affecting any such companies was introduced in the other House, the pressure put on Members for the purpose of opposing it rendered it almost impossible to pass any good or beneficial measure as regards the interests of the public. The present Bill when introduced in the other House was a good Bill, affecting consumers, and certainly not interfering unne- 1246 cessarily with the interests of the companies. It was referred to a Select Committee, which was presided over by Mr. Sotheron Estcourt, than whom no one was better qualified for the office. As soon as the Bill had been referred to this Committee all the gas companies in the metropolis appeared en masse against it. There were thirteen of them, represented by eight or nine counsel, and as many Parliamentary Agents. Having sat eighteen days, the Chairman intimated to parties what were the intentions of the Committee in regard to the provisions of the Bill, and the alterations they intended to make. No sooner was that announcement made, than the counsel for the gas companies "threw up," and said they would appear in "another place." It was generally understood that they would appear in their Lordships' House. Not at all. The agents of the gas companies in London sent out circulars to all gas companies in the provinces, calling on them to instruct their Members to oppose the Bill in every possible way, because it would not only materially interfere with the interests of the gas companies in the Metropolis, but indirectly with all the gas companies in the United Kingdom. That was their course of proceeding; what was the consequence? When the Bill went into Committee of the Whole House, great influence was brought to bear upon it, and alterations were made which reduced it to a worse state than it was in now—for it was only in consequence of the Bill having been referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships' House that it had been materially improved. Ho had no hesitation in saying that in order to make it a good Bill as regards the consumer, and at the same time practically not to interfere improperly with the interests of gasmakers, great alterations must still be made in it, and it was a question now, whether at that late period of the Session it was desirable to proceed with it. The Bill had come up at the last moment at which it could be read a second time; but, before it could pass, great alterations must be made in it.
thought the Bill most injurious to the public interests; the community being handed over by it to the tender mercies of the gas companies, ho felt it his duty to move that the Report of the Amendments be received that day three months.
§ LORD TRURO
said, that the Bill had undergone a very elaborate investigation 1247 by a Committee of the other House, and many improvements had been made in it, at the suggestion or with the consent, as he understood, of the gas companies. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had expressed the opinion before the Committee of the other House that there was no ground whatever for supposing that the companies had acted with bad faith to the public.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
hoped the noble Viscount would not press his Motion till be saw, on the third reading, in what shape the Bill appeared after Amendment. It might be possible to improve the Bill so as to make it acceptable to the public; but he confessed he thought it would be almost impossible to make it a good measure. There was one clause to which he must particularly call attention. An enormous sum of money had been expended in contesting the Bill, and the parties had introduced a clause by which the whole of that expense was to be defrayed out of the rate to be levied by the Metropolitan Board, whose whole duty it was to manage and conduct the sewerage of this town. He thought such a provision so monstrous and so wrong that he was inclined himself to move its rejection.
§ LORD REDESDALE
thought it would not be quite fair to the parties concerned to press the Motion of the noble Viscount. This case showed the great inconvenience of entertaining such a Bill, which required so much consideration, at that late period of the Session. He must say, however, that it was only the extreme exertion of the noble Lord himself (Lord Stanley of Alderley) that enabled the Bill to pass the second reading. It would otherwise have died a natural death. Both parties having been subjected to the expense of contesting the Bill before that House, and the measure being now in the shape of a compromise between the parties, the noble Viscount should wait to see the shape it Would assume in the third reading. The fact was that the gas companies, by agreement among themselves, with which the consumers could in no way interfere, already had the Metropolis at their mercy; and it was a mistake to suppose that this Bill was one exclusively in their interest. It would no doubt be desirable that some means could be devised for insuring perfect accuracy in gas meters, but he die not think the mistakes which occurred were invariably in favour of the gas companies.
§ Bill to be read 3a on Friday next.