HL Deb 24 July 1885 vol 299 cc1763-9

House in Committee (according to order).

Clause 1 (Explanation of s. 68 of Act 10 & 11 Vict. c. 17).


moved to amend the clause by appending to it the following Proviso:— Provided also, that where the water rate is chargeable on the annual value of any tenement, the rateable value of which has not been settled by the local authority, or which may be exempt from rating, the annual value of such tenement shall, if any dispute arise as to such value, he determined in the manner provided by the said section. This clause shall come into operation concurrently with the new valuation list on the sixth day of April one thousand eight hundred and eight-six, and not previously. In this Amendment he observed that there were two substantial matters. The first part of the Amendment provided for cases where new houses were building, which could not be in the assessment, and also for places not in the assessment at all, such as churches and chapels. The other part of the Amendment was framed in view of the quinquennial valuation next April. The Water Companies desired, first of all, to avoid having a rate made on the present assessment and another in the month of April, which would be a perfectly needless thing.

Moved, at end of Clause 1, to add— Provided also, that where the water rate is chargeable on the annual value of any tenement, the rateable value of which has not been settled by the local authority, or which may be exempt from rating, the annual value of such tenement shall, if any dispute arise as to such value, be determined in the manner provided by the said section. This clause shall come into operation concurrently with the new valuation list on the sixth day of April one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six, and not previously."—[The Lord Bramwell.)


said, he was unable to agree to the Amendment. With regard to churches and chapels, he was informed there was a private understanding between the trustees of these institutions and the Water Companies that a certain sum should be paid for the water supplied, and the charge was made in compliance with the provisions of the Water Companies' Acts. As to new houses, which he would suppose became tenanted at Christmas, they would become liable to parochial assessment at Easter; but he understood the Water Companies would be entitled to charge for a quarter's supply of water nevertheless. Upon the whole, the Amendment was unnecessary.


said, he must complain that the Committee had given no reason for their action in this matter. It was most inconvenient that a Bill of this importance should have been treated as it had been by the Select Committee.


remarked, that the Bill had been carefully considered by the Committee, who, after hearing the agent for the Water Companies, had come to the conclusion that no Amendment was necessary.


said, that the Local Government Board had no objection to make the Amendments as a whole; but still they thought, as some points appeared to be open to objection, it was desirable that they should not be pressed.


said, that if this Amendment were carried it would be fatal to the Bill, as it would prevent all chance of its becoming law during the present year.


remarked, that, of course, if their Lordships had not time to do justice they would not do it. He thought the Amendment had the approval of the Board of Trade.


pointed out that the Board of Trade had nothing whatever to do with the matter,


said, he had made a mistake. It was the Local Government Board.


said, the Amendment had not the approval of the Board, who preferred to deal with each case as it arose.


said, that this was a case in which an agreement had been entered into between the Water Companies and the water consumers, and now it was sought on the part of the water consumers to set that agreement aside by Act of Parliament, to the injury of the Water Companies and for the benefit of the water drinkers. The House ought to be very chary of lending themselves to such a course, because the same principle which it was now sought to apply to the property of the Water Companies might afterwards be sought to apply to the property in land in the direction of Mr. George's views, for the argument used was that the State had made a bad bargain for the consumer. That was exactly Mr. George's reasoning regarding the land. He was given to understand that if this Bill were passed in its present form those Companies who now paid a dividend of 7 per cent would be able to pay only a dividend of 5½ per cent. If the Companies were to be dealt with in this way they ought to receive compensation. He had no interest in the matter except as a water drinker, and he did not take more water than he could help; but he asked the House not to interfere with contracts entered into under Act of Parliament.


said, he thought there was a misunderstanding in the matter. The contract between the Companies and the public was that the Companies were to be paid on the valuation; but Parliament never intended that the Companies themselves should fix the valuation. Now, however, the agreement did not appear to be between the Water Companies and the public, but between the Water Companies and themselves.


said, he supported the view taken by his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss). The principle involved in the Bill was not merely confined to the Water Question, but had reference also to the right of Parliament to interfere with regard to private pro- perty. If the public desired to get rid of the agreement which they had entered into with the Company, the latter ought to receive compensation. This Bill was just such a one as might be expected to come from the Radical Party, who seemed always to desire to carry out reforms as cheaply as they could to themselves, making, if they could, the party reformed pay all the costs. Until they dealt in some way with the principles on which local rates were charged, it was not fair to cut down the rights of the Water Companies which they had obtained from the Legislature.


said, the noble Duke seemed to have forgotten that this Bill had been read a second time. What he suggested should be done had been done as long ago as 1869, and it was the object of this Bill to affirm the principle then laid down. The rateable value was the value according to which the Water Companies should charge.


said, he should not ask their Lordships to agree to the first part of the Amendment; but he proposed to press the second part. He hoped their Lordships, in mercy to the Water Companies, would listen to a few observations he had to make. Sir Henry Knight, the Chairman of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company, had stated in his Petition that the actual annual value of the property dealt with by them was £2,703,000, and the assessed value £2,524,000. The Company would, therefore, have to make their charge upon £179,000 less than the sum they now charged upon, and their loss would be £9,000. Then, again, they could not charge for baths and other things under a certain rental, and this represented a further loss of £2,600, so that there was an annual loss to this Company of £11,600. What followed? The gross income of the Company was £135,000, and their expenses £90,000. The net income amounted to £45,000, but the loss to which he had referred would reduce it to £33,400. That was to say, the Bill would take away one-fourth of the Company's income. The Company did not fix the charge, as they had no power to do so. There never was a more unreasonable Bill than this. The Companies had 700,000 customers, and out of that number only 50 within the year had appealed to magistrates as to the proper sum to be charged, because the Company had always been very careful to keep within the proper limits. Only two out of the 50 eases had been settled against the Company. Now it was proposed to fine them one-fourth of their income. He submitted that nothing could justify the adoption of such a course. Were their Lordships prepared to adopt it? He hoped that the second part of the Amendment would be agreed to.


said, that it was not contended that the Companies fixed the charge, but that they fixed their own valuation on which the charge was made. That valuation, he submitted, was fixed too high.


said, that one of the Water Companies had admitted that they had for 40 years overcharged him considerably, and a second Company had done the same thing for 20 years. This Bill was a public measure to secure them against the unreasonable and, he might say, the monstrous charges made by the Companies.


said, he was willing to admit that the Companies would lose a large part of their rate under the Bill; but the question was how had they arrived at the annual value up to the present time? They would merely lose what they ought never to have had.


said, as a Member of the Select Committee, he might be allowed to say a few words. He did not wish to enter into the general question. Their Lordships had been informed that the Committee had gone into the question referred to them very carefully. They had heard both sides at great length. He had endeavoured more than once, by questions—he might say by cross-examination—put to the very able gentlemen who appeared for the Water Companies, to discover the system on which they made their valuations; whether it was a uniform and a fair system with an unsatisfactory result?—their Lordships were aware that it mattered very little the amount at which an assessment or valuation was made, so long as it was relatively fair and just—and he had questioned the gentleman who appeared on the other side as to the system adopted in assessing the various parishes in the Metropolis to the poor rate, and so on. He had come to the conclusion that the system the Water Companies employed was not uniform, or a good one; whereas the system in force for other purposes was fair and just. This question was a very important one, and greatly guided him in joining in the unanimous decision of the Committee not to amend the Bill. They had given the Bill most careful consideration, and he hoped their Lordships would support their Committee in the Report they had made to the House.

Amendment negatived.


said, he begged to move another Amendment the object of which was to give power to the Local Government Board to permit Companies to increase their charges where they could prove that they had sustained loss. He believed that they would sustain considerable loss; but if they sustained none the clause was useless. If, on the other hand, they did sustain loss, the Local Government Board ought to have power to indemnify them. If the Bill was passed in its present condition, so surely would the Water Companies struggle against the wrong which they felt to be inflicted on them, and there would be a great amount of litigation. If this clause were passed they would be content to claim compensation under it.

Moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following clause:— It shall be lawful for the Board of Trade on the application of any of the companies affected by this Bill, on proof to the satisfaction of the Board that any such company has been injuriously affected by such Bill, to authorise and empower such company to raise the rate at which it may charge the consumer so as to prevent such loss."— (The Lord Bramwell.)


said, he was unable to accept the proposal of the noble and learned Lord.


said, the incomes of the Companies were not to be diminished without reference to the soundness or unsoundness of the basis of the valuation on which their charges had been made; and now it was proposed that the Local Government Board should have the power of increasing the charges that had been fixed by Act of Parliament. The right of appeal would have the salutary effect of keeping the assessments correct. If there were wholesale appeals, and they were justified, the Court would decide them in a wholesale way. He had never seen anything more objectionable than the proposal of the noble and learned Lord.


said, the effect of the Amendment would be to give to a Government Department the power of taxing the citizens of London. He could not conceive anything more dangerous than this.

Amendment negatived.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; and to be read 3a on Monday next.