HL Deb 13 March 1902 vol 104 cc1214-22


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it will probably be in your Lordships' recollection that there was an announcement in the Speech from the Throne that a Bill would be submitted to Parliament for the better control of the water supply of London. In pursuance of that announcement, a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the President of the Local Government Board, and upon its being read a second time, a Motion was carried to the effect that it was expedient that the Bill should be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. In order to carry out that Resolution, it will be necessary that this House should concur in it, and should appoint a Committee to act jointly with the Committee of the other House. Those who are the guardians of the procedure of your Lordships' House feel that' in order to give effect to the Resolution of the House of Commons, if your Lordships think right to concur in it, it is necessary to introduce a measure identical with that which has been read a second time in another place. If that were not done, it is felt that there would be nothing to refer, and that noble Lords, acting on the Joint Committee, without this Bill being before your Lordships' House, would be acting only as assessors. The first thing you have to consider is whether there should be joint action. The Government recommend that this would be a wise course to take. It is felt that, in the circumstances of the case, one inquiry is better than two. The inquiry must be one of great length, and must involve very great expense, and as some of the parties interested in the matter will, in the conduct of their case before the Committee, be spending the money of the ratepayers, it is felt that such expenditure should not be repeated by the holding of a second identical inquiry. This is a public Bill introduced by the Government, and, of course, under such circumstances you do not have a reference to a Select Committee, as in the case of private Bills. At the same time, you are dealing with private property, and therefore it is necessary, from that aspect of the Bill, that there should be an inquiry, the same as if the Bill had been introduced as a private Bill.

The procedure by Joint Committee seems to be not only advisable, but necessary. That being so, it is held that in order to give this House, as it were, the right position in the Joint Committee, the Bill should be introduced into your Lordships' House. The Bill has been introduced, and is identical with that read a second time in the House of Commons. But it is not intended to proceed with the Bill except so far as the purpose of its going before the Joint Committee necessitates its being proceeded with. The Bill of the House of Commons, after the inquiry by the Joint Committee, will be returned to that House, and, having been considered, will be sent to your Lordships' House to be proceeded with as though the Bill I now ask should be read a second time had never been introduced. The position and the rights of your Lordships, therefore, will not be in any way affected by what is now taking place. The Bill will be read a first time, a second time, and proceeded with in the usual way, the whole object of this procedure today being to avoid two inquiries. I have communicated with my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth, as representing the interests of the London County Council, and as having fully considered the Water question, and I trust there will be no opposition to the course proposed today, which is taken in the interests of those who will bear the burden of this inquiry—namely, the ratepayers—and is not a course taken in any political interest on the part of the Government. There are those who are very much interested in the proceedings before the Committee, and who will petition in order to be heard. I am desired by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees to state that parties wishing to be heard will not require to present two petitions, and that one petition to be heard will give every party petitioning a locus standi to place their views before the Committee. I think only one set of Gentlemen will be disappointed with the proposal I am now making, namely, the members of my own profession, the Bar. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord James of Hereford.)


My Lords, I am sorry my noble friend Lord Spencer is not here today, but he and I have talked this matter over, and I think I am able to convey to your Lordships what his views, as well as my own, are on this subject. The procedure is undoubtedly somewhat unusual. I do not pretend to be an authority on the practice of this House, but it does seem to me that the procedure is unnecessary. I believe that this House has a perfect power at any time to join a Committee of the other House for any purpose whatever, without the preliminary introduction of a Bill, as in the present case. I think there is a good precedent for that—not, it is true, in respect of public Bills, but in respect of private Bills. We have had two instances in recent years — the Dublin Corporation Bill, which originated in the other House, and the Amalgamated Railways Bill in 1890, which originated in this House—in which a Joint Committee of the two-Houses was appointed without the Bill being read a second time in the House in which it did not originate. So that, as far as private Bills are concerned, there is a precedent for joining in a Joint Committee without the necessity of reading the Bill a second time. If the authorities of the House have decided that it is desirable that the procedure suggested by the noble and learned Lord should be followed, we are ready to agree with it, with the caveat that we do not think it is a course which is absolutely necessary.

My Lords, I should like to say one word with regard to the Committee itself. I do not know what is to be the procedure in appointing this Committee. As I understand, the Members of the other House are to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and not through the "usual channels," and I hope I may take that as an indication that the Committee is to be an entirely impartial Committee, and not in any sense made up of partisan representatives. I think that for the purposes of this Committee the precedent of an ordinary Private Bill Committee should be followed, and that it should be composed of impartial Members acquainted with the subject, who will deal with it in an impartial spirit, doing full justice to all the interests concerned. What will be the points which the Committee will have to consider? First, the principle and constitution of the new Water Authority; and, secondly, the question as to what the powers of that Authority are to be, and especially whether it is to have the power, directly it is appointed, and before it has obtained knowledge and experience, of coming to an agreement by settlements with the Water Companies. That will be a point they will have to consider very carefully. It is provided that the question between the Authorities and the Water Companies should be settled by arbitration. I think there might be a little addition made on the financial side of the Arbitration Court, but that will be another point the Joint Committee will have to consider. Then there will be the question of the instructions to the arbitrators, and I hope the instructions will be as wide as possible, and that they will be allowed to go fully into all the circumstances of this question, which really should be kept clear of any political Party complexion. This is essentially a question which affects the health, the comfort, and the pockets of the inhabitants of London, and it should be considered free from all political Party bias, for really no questions are involved before the Committee which should lend themselves to treatment in that fashion. I assume that I have the assurance of the noble and learned Lord that the Committee will be appointed on the lines I suggest; that the reference to that Committee will be as wide as possible; that by assenting to the Motion this House is in no way whatever damnified with regard to its future proceedings on the Bill; that this Bill is brought forward pro formâ to satisfy the forms of the House; that when the Bill introduced in the House of Commons has been read a third time, it will come up to this House in the ordinary way; and that, with regard to the remaining stages of the Bill in this House, we shall have as complete power of dealing with this measure as with any other Bill coming from in the House of Commons. With that assurance, I assent to the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, I wish to say one word on the question of procedure, especially with regard to the procedure adopted in the case of the Irish Acts referred to. A private Bill is quite different from a public Bill, inasmuch as a Second Reading of a private Bill does not necessarily carry the adoption of the principle of the Bill with it. The noble Lord behind me consulted me at the beginning of the session as to whether this Bill could be referred to a Joint Committee without having been read a second time in this House. That seemed to me impossible, because it would be referring a Bill to a Committee, whereas the House had had no opportunity, up to that time, of expressing any view on the principle of it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack agreed with me that the only way in which this could be done would be to introduce what would be a transitory Bill into this House and then drop it and wait for the Bill brought into the other House to come up to your Lordships in the usual way. I have troubled your Lordships with these few remarks in order to make it clear why this novel procedure is necessary.


It is rather awkward that we should be twice over asked to accept the principle of the Bill. The whole question of the principle of the measure can be raised when it comes up from the House of Commons, so that our assent today is rather worthless.


My Lords, if I might make the observation without impertinence on the speech of the noble Lord, I think that he did what he censures us for doing, and that was, made some very unnecessary protestations. He dwelt very much on the absolute necessity of guarding ourselves from any Party feeling in this matter. I confess, being an old Parliamentary hand, that I always hear with some suspicion when any person guards himself from the imputation of any political feeling. I assure the noble Lord that it is unnecessary, and I rather resent the imputation which, by what he said, he conveyed upon the ordinary Committees of this House, as though it was a very special and unusual privilege that we should approach any of the subjects committed to our consideration without strong Party feeling. I believe there is no justification for any such imputation on the Committees of the House, whether direct or implied; and I entirely repudiate the idea that we have made this arrangement in order specially to avoid the imputation of party bias. There were a great number of other protestations made by the noble Lord which I do not think were just to the ordinary procedure of this House. Of course, there will be entire freedom from any Party bias, entire freedom from leaning to one side or the other; but that will take place, not because we have adopted a special form of procedure in order to carry it out, but because it is the universal rule of all Committees, especially Private Bill Committees, in this House. I most heartily join with the noble Lord in not only wishing, but confidently trusting, that that will be the result, and I hope that nothing he has said will induce outside observers or critics of this House to say that it required his special and earnest and most enthusiastic interference in order to preserve the House of Lords from such a snare. We are in no danger of it. I hope that, whatever the interests at issue may be, we shall consider them quite impartially, with a solitary and single view to the interests of the public.


Perhaps the noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill will forgive me for pressing him on a small point. I understood the noble Lord to say that the Bill is being read a second time pro formâ, and will then be dropped, and that in the ordinary course the Bill will come up from the House of Commons and be read a first time, a second time, and "so on," It is rather as to the "so on" that I should be glad if the noble and learned Lord would give me more information. Is it intended that the Bill should not be referred to a Select Committee, and should not go through any Committee stage in this House?


This reference to a Joint Committee will take the place of a Committee of the Whole House. When the Bill from the House of Commons has been read a second time in this House, I presume the House will not sit in Committee on the Bill.


Surely we are not to be deprived of the stage of Committee of the Whole House! It will be in the power of the Government to decide whether the Bill should go to the Standing Committee, but surely they have no power to omit the Committee stage.


I would venture to remind the noble and learned Lord of what he said with regard to the procedure of this Bill in the course of his statement today. He stated that the privileges and rights of this House would be in no way interfered with, and he pointed out that, if we assented to a joint inquiry, this House would be in no way damnified thereby or precluded from considering this Bill when it comes up from the House of Commons in the ordinary way. As I understand, this is merely a "dummy" Bill, because the noble and learned Lord has not described its merits. We are simply discussing the procedure, and I understand that if the House assents to the Motion now before it we shall be simply assenting to the Second Reading, not with any reference to the merits of the Bill, but for the purpose of joining with the other House in Joint Committee. I apprehend that as soon as we have done this, and appointed the number of Lords to the Joint Committee, the Bill will be withdrawn, or, at all events, will be withdrawn as soon as the Joint Committee have reported to the other House. Then the Bill which is in the House of Commons, and which will have been considered by this Joint Committee, will come up to this House; and after the Second Reading, if the rights and privileges of this House are to be preserved, as the noble and learned Lord has stated, of course it will pass through the ordinary stage of Committee of the whole House. If any other procedure is followed, the rights of this House will be most distinctly interfered with. Suppose any private Member were to propose this course, the Government would most strongly object to it. I am not expressing any opinion with regard to the merits of the Bill, but I do say that this procedure is, so far as we know, absolutely without precedent. We adopt it simply for the purpose of public convenience, and I understood the noble and learned Lord to say that it would not in any way interfere with the rights and privileges of the House. In fact, he went so far as to state that when the Bill came up for Second Reading any Member of your Lordships' House would have a perfect right to move its rejection. If any noble Lord has a right to move the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading, why should the House not have the right to amend the Bill in Committee. I do not take any exception to this unprecedented procedure, but at the same time I do think we ought to have that right of expressing our opinion on the measure in principle and in detail which we enjoy with regard to any other Bill coming before us.


It is quite true that this Bill is being read a second time formally today, and that we shall proceed on the House of Commons Bill when that Bill has been subjected to an inquiry by Joint Committee; has been returned to that House; has passed through all its stages there, and then comes up to your Lordships' House. It will be introduced and read a first time in this House, and will then come up for Second Reading, when a full debate can take place. As to the Committee stage, when I gave my previous answer, I regarded the private Bill aspect of the measure as controlling the procedure in this House, and I therefore thought that the Committee stage in the Whole House would be dispensed with, but I am now informed that the Bill, when it goes back from the Joint Committee to the House of Commons, will go through its Committee stage there, and that therefore, in the same way, when it comes up to this House, it will go through its Committee stage also.

On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.

Then it was moved that the Commons Message of Tuesday, the 4th instant, respecting the London Water Bill (introduced in the House of Commons) be taken into consideration—(The Lord James of Hereford); agreed to; the said Message considered accordingly.

Moved to resolve, "That this House do concur in the following Resolution communicated by the Commons, viz.: 'That it is expedient that the London Water Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons';" agreed to; and a Message ordered to be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint them therewith.