HL Deb 24 April 1866 vol 182 cc1976-80

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.


in moving that the House do resolve into a Committee on the said Bill, said, that the Bill proposed to extend the Works of the Company to St. John's, Hampstead, Willesden, and other places. The area of supply was therefore greatly extended, and might demand a great increase in the water taken from the Thames. The Company had, at present, power to take 20,000,000 gallons of water from the Thames daily; but they only took 8,000,000 gallons on the average. The wants of the various Companies which derived their supply from the river were every year increasing, and in summer time the quantity, taken from the river materially affected the flow of the stream. He thought that the Government and others interested ought to have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the subject; and therefore, under the powers vested in him as Chairman of Committees, he decided that this was a Bill which ought to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. It was obvious that the supply of water in the Thames was by no means excessive, and it was desirable that new districts should look to new sources rather than the old ones.

Moved, That the House do resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill.—(The Chairman of Committees.)


said, it appeared to him that the Bill raised a question of great importance—a question of far greater extent than the effect of the mere Bill itself. London was daily increasing in size, and the whole system of municipal affairs for the government of the metropolis appeared to him to be utterly breaking down. The time had, he thought, come when Parliament ought to consider whether some better system could not be devised, and whether some better authority could not be appointed for the management of these local affairs. Both Gas and Water Bills were at present transferred from the proper municipal authority to joint-stock companies, which were very apt to abuse their powers, and to consider the interests of their shareholders rather than those of the public. This was a serious and growing evil, and the House had a right to expect from the Government some distinct statement of their views on this subject, Did the Government mean that the Legislature were to drift on as they were now doing, passing Private Bill after Private Bill, without result; or did they contemplate that, if not this year, still that next year some larger measure of municipal reform should be attempted? If so, would I it not be prudent to insert a clause in these Pills for the protection of the public, and with a respect to any claims for compensation which might hereafter be raised? He could not but think that the Government greatly neglected their duty if they failed to look to these questions of public interests, and to offer their advice to Parliament thereupon.


said, he could not very well answer the question of the noble Earl with regard to the great municipal reform of the metropolis. He quite agreed with his noble Friend that this was a very largo and important question. No doubt, there were great evils in the present state of things, and it was very desirable to have more united action in municipal affairs. It was, however, a very difficult question to deal with, and the Government would not be justified in bringing in a measure of the kind desired by his noble Friend without seeing their way very clearly. With regard to the Bill before their Lordships it laid down no very new principle, although the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees had, no doubt, exercised a sound discretion in stating the circumstances. The Bill did little more than confirm the legality of certain Acts which were rather doubtful. It gave no authority to the company to take a single gallon more water from the Thames then they were at present entitled to take. He did not see why they should object to this Bill if it only confined powers to the company which they already possessed.


was understood to say that the district to which this Bill referred had been to a great extent drained of its natural supply of water by the effect of the main sewerage system.


said, he quite agreed with his noble Friend (Earl Grey) that this Bill involved a very large and important question. His noble Friend the Chairman of Committees had exercised his usual judgment and discretion in bringing the Bill before a Committee of the Whole House; but their Lordships could, he thought, hardly refuse to pass it. The Bill had been sanctioned by the Thames Conservancy, and had passed the House of Commons as an unopposed Bill. It gave the company no powers to take more water from the river than they had at present, although, as they extended their works over a largo area, it might be followed by a greater demand for a supply of water, and the cry might eventually come for another Act. The company were already empowered to take from the Thames 20,000,000 gallons n day for a population of 729,119 persons, but, on an average, they only took 8,000,000 gallons for a population of 283,000 persons. The supply was, therefore, more than double what they required for the increased population to be supplied under this Bill; and, by the present Act, the company were prevented from taking a single gallon more than 20,000,000 gallons per day. He believed the company had given up a large portion of their population, which now drew their supplies from other sources.


said, be bad not understood his noble Friend (Earl Grey) to offer any opposition to the present Bill; but what he understood his noble Friend to do was this, to cull the attention of the Government to the grievances under which this great metropolis was now suffering owing to the want of control over water, gas, and other public companies. These grievances had now reached to a great height, and it was universally felt throughout the metropolis that something should be done to correct them. He had himself continually' heard observations in society to that effect, and he hoped that the serious attention of the Government and of Parliament would be directed to the subject.


said, the noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Grey) was quite justified in calling their Lordships' attention to the great inconvenience to the public which arose from the present want of government of this great metropolis. Her Majesty's Government, however, were not to blame, and the only chance which the public had of getting a proper system of management for the metropolis was by public opinion taking up the question, and insisting that justice should be done to the community. He recollected what took place only two years ago, when what was considered only a moderate and just measure for putting the police on a satisfactory footing was introduced. The corporation of the City of London went about can- vassing noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen; they got corporations in other parts of the country to come to their assistance. The result was that the public interests had no defenders, but everyone took a lively interest in what they were pleased to call the interests of the City of London. The consequence was that it was impossible to deal with the matter. There was no use, therefore, in discussing the abuses to which attention had been called until Parliament was prepared to look the matter in the face, and deal with it as the public interest required. His own attention had been specially called to to the subject from the fact that he had served on a Commission of Inquiry with other more distinguished men—the late Sir George Lewis and Mr. Justice Patteson—and no one could come to any other conclusion than that it was necessary to put the state of affairs on an entirely different footing. The way in which the affairs of this metropolis were managed was a scandal to the country. He believed there was no other instance in the world of a great city being managed as this was—there was no unity of action, everything was left to chance, and the consequence was that enormous sums of money were thrown away, while the safety and convenience of the public and proper sanitary arrangements were neglected.


said, he did not rise to offer any opposition to the Bill now before the House, which, no doubt, would be considered upon its merits; but there were one or two points which had been touched on in the discussion upon which he wished to say a few words. The argument of the noble and learned Lord, as he understood it, was that this particular company were authorized to take 12,000,000 gallons more a day from the Thames than they actually took. At present they took about 8,000,000 gallons a day, and they desired to be allowed to enlarge their area of supply. That seemed to be a perfectly reasonable request at first sight; but there wore two things which appeared very deserving of consideration. It should not be forgotten that while, on the one hand, the water companies had such a large supply of water at their disposal, the quantity of water which their customers daily consumed was continually increasing, that was to say, that the consumption of water per head was continually increasing. Some figures which he would quote would show that this was the ease. In 1850, only fifteen years ago, the total water supply taken from the Thames was 44,000,000 gallons daily, in 1856 it was 81,000,000 gallons, or nearly double; and, nine years later, in 1865, it was 108,000,000 gallons. That showed the great increase in the consumption, and how much allowance ought to be made for the growth of the population, Again, London itself was enormously increasing; it was increasing one-half in twenty years, and doubling itself in forty. But that was not all. The arguments made use of in the statement which had been circulated among their Lordships concluded with this rather singular view. It was stated that a Bill which had been recently introduced into Parliament would enable the Conservators of the Thames to improve the navigation, purify the river, regulate the supply of water, and therefore the limited quantity taken from the river would be of less consequence hereafter than it was at present. Prom that conclusion he must dissent, because they all knew that there was a diminution from year to year of the quantity of water in the Thames, and also in the rivers flowing into it. In the year 1852 the minimum quantity of water in the Thames is stated to have been 400,000,000 gallons in the course of the day; in 1865 it fell by nearly one-fourth, or to 300,000,000 gallons. With the double fact of the increase of demand out of all proportion to the enormous growth of population, and the yearly diminution of the amount in the volume of the river, it behoved Parliament to see how far they would allow companies to enlarge their supplies from the Thames without insisting that due precautions were taken.

Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly; and Bill reported, without Amendment.