HL Deb 16 July 1906 vol 160 cc1269-74

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, as I am the only member of the Metropolitan Water Board who has a seat in your Lordships' House I have been asked to move the Amendment standing in my name. The object of the clause is the further protection of the Metropolitan Water Board and the gas companies, providing that in the event of damage to certain pipes from electric currents generated and used by the Corporation nothing in the Bill shall relieve the Corporation from the liability to make compensation. This clause was passed in Committee of the other House, and afterwards came up to your Lordships and was considered and passed by a Committee presided over by Lord Camperdown. I am under the impression that the clause was passed in your Lordships' Committee as an agreed clause, and I am not aware that any evidence was taken on the point. But after it had been adopted by Lord Camperdown's Committee the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees struck it out.

I know it is a very serious matter for a humble Member of your Lordships' House to ask you to reconsider any point of this kind which has been decided by so high an authority as the Chairman of Committees, but I understand that his decision was taken upon the ground that the clause was contrary to the spirit and intention of the Report of the Joint Committee over which Lord Cross presided some years ago. I am the last person to question the interpretation which Lord Onslow has put upon the practice of your Lordships' House, or to ask you to reverse that which on consideration he has thought proper to recommend; but I would point out how very desirable it is that promoters and those interested in the passing of Bills should know where they are. I should feel that I had no ground whatever for asking that this clause should be inserted were it not that there are so many precedents upon my side.

I believe I am right in saying that since the Report of Lord Cross's Committee no fewer than fifteen different bodies have obtained powers similar to those contained in the clause which the Chairman of Committees struck out of this Bill. It does appear to me that in such a case it is extremely difficult to justify the action of Parliament. The present state of affairs constitutes a hardship on promoters. If the recommendation of Lord Cross's Committee is the right one, and if the regulations made by the Board of Trade are sufficient to meet the case, they should be of universal application. There is no justification for granting one borough this protection and refusing it to another. It is upon that ground that I ask the House to take the question again into consideration, and I hope the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees will reconsider the decision he has come to in this case.

Moved, " After Clause 14, to insert as a new clause: For the further protection of the Gas Light and Coke Company, the South Metropolitan Gas Company, and the Metropolitan Water Board, the following provisions shall have effect: If it be proved that an injury or damage to any gas or water pipes or other metallic pipes, structures, or substances of either of the said companies or of the said board elsewhere than on Blackfriars Bridge between the northern and southern abutments thereof shall have resulted from fusion or electrolytic action caused by any currents generated and used by the Corporation for the purpose of electric energy under this Act, nothing in this Act shall relieve the Corporation from any liability to make compensation for any such injury or damage which would have existed but for the passing of this Act."—(Lord Welby.)


My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot ask your Lordships to comply with the request of my noble friend. This matter has been under very careful consideration, and -was brought before your Lordships' House as recently as 1903. The Committee over which my noble friend Lord Cross presided in 1893 was a Joint Committee of both Houses, and had upon it Lord Rosse, Lord Russell, Sir John Brunner and others well versed in scientific matters. It came to the conclusion that this was a question which could safely be left to the Board of Trade, and it recommended a series of clauses to be inserted in every Bill providing that the Board of Trade should make certain regulations which would, in their belief, prevent any damage to the pipes of water or gas companies.

It is quite true that since 1893 a clause similar to that proposed by my noble friend on this occasion has been inserted in some Bills, but not, I believe, since 1903. In that year the Beckenham Urban District Council Bill came up to your Lordships' House with a clause similar to this in it, and a Motion was made that the clause, although it had been considered by a Committee of which the Duke of Bedford was Chairman, should be rejected; and your Lordships, contrary to your usual practice but with the sanction of the then Chairman of Committee, decided that the clause should not be allowed. This has been the practice from that time until now, and unless some scientific member of your Lordships' House is prepared to get up and say that the inventions and knowledge of electricity have so altered since 1893 that there is good reason for reconsidering the question, I think your Lordships would do well to adhere to the decision you arrived at in 1903, that in matters of this kind it is safe to rely upon the sufficiency of the regulations of the Board of Trade. So far as I know, the Board of Trade consider that they are quite able to discharge the duties that are to be put upon them, and I ask your Lordships to leave the matter in the hands of the Government Department.


My Lords, I think this short discussion illustrates, as the noble Duke observed just now, one of the numerous difficulties attending Private Bill legislation. This particular question of electrolysis is one which is perpetually occurring. Only last session the same point was raised in connection with a Torquay Bill, and the proposal was rejected by the House. It is perfectly plain that if the Amendment which the noble Lord has now moved is accepted it will cause additional complications in decisions of this character, and Chairmen of Private Bill Committees have quite enough difficulties to contend with already. If this Amendment is accepted it will create a fresh precedent whenever a Bill is promoted in which the interests of a gas company are affected in any way. In such a case opponents will plead for the recognition of this particular principle. But what I really rose to suggest was that it does seem to mo most desirable that we should, if possible, arrive at what I may term uniformity of decision in such matters. This difficulty with regard to electrolysis will obviously continue to recur, and therefore I suggest that the Board of Trade should appoint a Departmental Committee, or that some similar steps should be taken in order to ascertain the real rights of the question and arrive at a satisfactory decision which shall be a guide to Committees in the future.


My Lords, if the Board of Trade adopt the suggestion which has just been thrown out by my noble friend Lord Newton, perhaps they will also inquire into an action of their own in 1904, when they granted a Provisional Order containing the very clause which the noble Lord opposite now wishes to insert in this Bill. Although the Board of Trade are put forward as the proper authority to look after this matter they themselves, as recently as 1904, inserted in a Provisional Order for which they were responsible a clause similar to the one which is now thought unnecessary.


My: Lords, there are two entirely separate; questions before the House at this moment, one dealing with the merits of this particular case, and the other raised by my noble friend, Lord Newton, as to the practice of Private Bill Committees. As regards the practice of Private Bill Committees, I confess I have always felt that there is a certain danger arising out of agreed clauses. It sometimes happens that towards the end of a rather long and wearisome Committee the parties come together and bring up, in an agreeable and smiling manner, a number of agreed clauses which the Chairman of the Committee is very much tempted to adopt, and I think it occasionally has happened ' that somewhat unfortunate precedents have been created by that means. Of course, we look to the Lord-Chairman in such cases to keep a careful watch upon any departure from established precedent, and to deal with it in a manner which he, as an autocrat in those matters, is able to do by striking out anything which he considers objectionable in I itself or creating an undesirable precedent. As regards this particular matter, I think my noble friend behind me was quite justified in bringing it before the House, but, in view of the opinion expressed by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, to whom one is always accustomed to look on these occasions, I hope my noble friend will not persist in his desire to reinsert the clause, and that he will agree to accept what I imagine would be the decision of your Lordships' House in supporting the Lord-Co airman in this matter.


After what my noble friend has just said I shall not put the House to the trouble of dividing on the the Amendment. I would only remind the noble Earl the Chairman of Com mittees that there were fifteen Bills in which this clause was insortod—two in 1900, three in 1901, six in 1903, two in 1904, and two in 1905. I venture to think that that point deserves the attention of my noble friend, as it gives the idea that there is not equal treatment between all parties. I think the suggestion made by Lord Newton is one which is deserving of the attention of His Majesty's Government.


I will look into the precedents since 1903. What I said was that I was not aware that then was any precedent for the insertion of this clause since your Lordships' decision in the full House in 1903. I shall probably find that the cases to which the noble Lord has referred were Provisional Orders, for which my Department is not responsible.

On Question, Amendment regatived.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.