HL Deb 18 May 1896 vol 40 cc1518-21

(1.) The Water Board shall have power to inquire into and enter into negotiations and make and adopt provisional agreements respecting any matters relating to the water supply of the metropolitan water area, and to take such steps for promoting or opposing any Bills in Parliament as may appear to the hoard necessary or expedient in relation to the water supply to the area, and any such Bill may provide for altering the extent of the metropolitan water area and for making any consequential alteration in the constitution of the Water Board.

(2.) Any such Bill promoted by them may be introduced as a private Bill, but if opposed shall be referred to a Select Committee of which some Members may be nominated by the House in which the Bill is pending.

(3.) The Water Board shall have the same power of making a complaint with respect to the quantity or quality of water as is given by section nine of the Metropolis Water Act 1852, to the householders mentioned in that section, and the provisions of that Act shall apply accordingly.

(4.) The Water Board may aid any inhabitant of the metropolitan water area in obtaining the determination of any question which appears to the Board to be of general interest to consumers of water or to any class of such consumers with respect to the rights and liabilities of any of the metropolitan water companies or otherwise with respect to the supply of water given and the charges made by those companies, and may take such legal proceedings as may appear to the Board necessary or expedient for the protection of the interests of consumers of water in respect of the matters aforesaid.

(5.) Any person authorised by the Water Board in that behalf may enter and inspect any premises within the metropolitan water area for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been any violation of the enactments with respect to the supply of water within that area.

*VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD moved, in Sub-section (4), to leave out all the words after "may" in the first line, to the words "and may." He said that the object of the Amendment was to provide that the Water Board should themselves, of their own motion, institute any proceedings which they might think necessary to protect the general interest of water consumers, and should, of course, be empowered to defray the expenses of such litigation out of the rates. That was in substitution of the power proposed to be conferred on the Board by the Bill, namely, to aid individual litigation out of the rates. The clause, as it stood, had a strong flavour of a doctrine known to the law as "maintenance," and some learned judge had declared that doctrine to be hateful to the law and contrary to justice. He regretted that, after a long and glorious professional career, his noble Friend should have had to introduce into the House a clause which put forward in the baldest manner this "hateful" doctrine of maintenance. Further, the clause as it stood was, he believed, absolutely without precedent. The Amendment did not limit but extended the power of the Water Board, who would have the power under it of seeing that the litigation was properly conducted; and this was a not unimportant point, for it might be safely assumed that private litigation would be carried on with less regard to cost when the expense was to be borne out of public money. He would be told that the Water Board could only aid an individual litigant when the subject was a matter of general interest to water consumers. It was not very easy to define what question was of sufficient general interest to justify the rating of persons who have no direct interest in the matter. But the clause did not stop there. It provided that the Water Trust might aid a private litigant not only in a matter of interest to the whole body of water consumers, but in a matter of interest "to any class of such consumers." That increased the difficulty of deciding what was of "general interest," and increased the hardship upon those ratepayers who were to be called upon to pay, although they had really no interest in the matter. He would give an instance of this. Supply of water by the companies is either constant or intermittent. Speaking generally, about 82 per cent. of the water supplied is supplied on the constant system, and no cisterns are necessary. Now, supposing some question arose as to the supply to a cistern; that might affect a small class of consumers—decreasing in number year by year—but surely it was hard to make all the ratepayers liable for the expenses of such litigation. Again, in some districts the question arose—what was a trade supply and what was a domestic supply? The question might affect a certain class—the consumers in the district; but if a few of the consumers thought fit to go to law on the question, why should the rest of the ratepayers who were not interested in it in any way be charged with the expenses of the litigation? If the noble and learned Lord found himself unable to accept the Amendment, he would earnestly press on him, at all events, to omit the words, "and to any class of such consumers." At least, let the litigation be in a matter that affected the whole body of the consumers, and not merely a class of the consumers. But the proper course to adopt was that proposed by the Amendment—to remove the taint of maintenance from the clause—not to let the litigant take his chance of getting his expenses paid out of the rates; but to let the Board take the responsibility of deciding whether the case was one that affected the general body of consumers, and, if it were, to let them then conduct the litigation.


said, he regretted he could not accept the Amendment. He thought it should be made clear who it was his noble Friend represented. His noble Friend urged the adoption of the Amendment in the interests of the water consumers, but he spoke really as the representative of the water companies of London, who objected to the sub-section because they feared they would be harassed by litigation. But that was not the object of the sub-section. It constantly happened that an invasion of great rights could only be dealt with by the litigation of an individual. If an individual water consumer had some right which had been interfered with by the water companies, and if that interference had injuriously affected the whole body of water consumers, it was surely unjust that that individual should bear all the cost of expensive litigation, undertaken really on behalf of the whole body of consumers against the water companies. What the clause provided was that if the Water Trust found that there was a question of general interest to the consumers—and they could not act unless in a question of general interest to the consumers—they should have power in their discretion to say, that instead of allowing a private litigant to be stopped in his litigation for want of funds, or, if he went on, to be compelled to pay all the expenses out of his own pocket, they would aid him in the action he had undertaken in the interest of the whole community. He believed that was a valuable provision, and he must adhere to it. The words "or to any class of such consumers," which his noble Friend had also appealed to him to strike out, were possibly not required, because they might be held to be included in the word "consumers." He would, therefore, consider the question of omitting them at a subsequent stage.


said, the promise of the noble Lord to omit the words "or any class of such consumers," made some difference. All he wanted was to prevent unnecessary private litigation. He would give free powers to the Board to conduct litigation where they thought it desirable in the interests of water consumers.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, that representations had been made to him that it would appear to be the intention of the Government to give power under the Bill of interference with independent water companies who supplied water to different areas. The Government had no wish to interfere with any independent company. In order to make that clear, he moved the insertion in Clause 4, Sub-section (5), after the word "violation," the words "by any metropolitan water company." Those words would prevent any interference with any other companies except the eight metropolitan water companies.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5,—