§ As amended, considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time."—(Sir William Russell.)
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that he felt it his duty to bring under the consideration of the House some circumstances relating to the Bill. It having been thought desirable to appropriate the sewage of the metropolis for agricultural purposes and for reclaiming some portions of the seacoast, the Metropolitan Board of Works advertised in 1860 for any scheme by which the sewage might be disposed of in such ways for the benefit of the ratepayers. The various projects were ultimately reduced to two—one by Mr. Ellis, and the other by Messrs. Hope and Napier. The terms of the advertisement published by the Metropolitan Board for tenders notified to every one that the projects were to be carried on at the sole risk of the projectors, and the ratepayers generally were satisfied that the matter should be proceeded with on that footing. After some delay and consideration the Metropolitan Board of Works determined to avail themselves of the project of Messrs. Hope and Napier, which seemed to combine in itself the elements of other projects, and applied to the House for a Bill to carry it into effect. There was a great deal of agitation in the metropolis on the subject of the concession, and to pacify the inhabitants he had moved that the Bill be referred, not to an ordinary private Committee, but to one of a more public character, which should, in the interest of the ratepayers, ascertain what was the best scheme for the utilization of the sewage of the metropolis. When that Committee met he found, to his utter astonishment, that instead of the terms of the advertisement being carried out, an agreement had been entered into between Messrs. Hope and Napier and the Metropolitan Board three days before the second reading of the Bill, which agreement was of a most extraordinary character, for its effect was to give to the Secretary of State, in the event of the failure of the projectors of the scheme, the power of compelling by his mere fiat the rate papers to pay every shilling of the expense. This agreement was to take effect only if it received the sanction of Parliament, and in this way 882 the Metropolitan Board of Works threw the whole responsibility on Parliament. Again, there was a clause in the Bill which was perfectly illusory, for, though it allowed the Board of Works to look at the accounts in connection with this project, it did not permit them to look at the vouchers. This was a matter also requiring attention. The contractors applied to the Committee to extend the time for the completion of the works, and they were allowed by the Committee the enormous period of ten years. He consequently proposed a Resolution to the Committee, declaring that the Committee were bound in the interest of the public to watch over the transaction; but that Amendment having been rejected, it became necessary for the House to deal with the question. The Committee also declined to give the ratepayers the power of examining the accounts of the company. What course ought they to take? He was not anxious to defeat this Bill. On the contrary, he thought that the Bill might be carried on with great advantage to the ratepayers, provided that they were not made to bear all the loss, and that they saw they were honestly treated by those who were projecting this Bill. He was anxious that the House should understand that this was no ordinary application to Parliament. It struck him as being one of the most unusual that could possibly be imagined. This was not an application to Parliament by a responsible body, who undertook to carry out these works. When a Railway Bill was being promoted, there was a subscription and a deposit which was to be impounded and forfeited if the works were not carried out. But this was a Bill promoted by certain gentlemen who especially declared that they were not acting under any deed or agreement of partnership, and that no capital had yet been created; and it was upon such grounds that they asked that House to give them power to take all this land by compulsion, and to hold this power for ten years. But that was not all. The promoters had actually put in the Bill clauses by which they were to be enabled to raise £2,000, to be increased to £3,000 if necessary, and sell the Act of Parliament as soon as it was granted for whatever sum they could obtain. He thought that when the House was dealing with people who came to them upon such a footing, without being a company, without capital, and who boldly asked to be allowed to sell the Act of Parliament, it was its bounden duty to see that the 883 Act of Parliament was one which was consistent with good faith towards the ratepayers of the metropolis, and that all the risk and failure should not fall upon them in case the promoters were unable to carry their project into effect. He had deemed it his duty, under these circumstances, having moved for the Committee on behalf of the ratepayers, to call the attention of the House to the failure that had taken place in the performance of the duties of the Committee, and to ask the House to defer the further consideration of this Bill until after Easter, in order that the promoters might be able to take into consideration the propriety of bringing up clauses to protect the ratepayers, on the one hand from being liable for the loss in case of failure, and on the other to give the ratepayers power to look into the accounts and dealings of this company with a view of satisfying themselves that all these transactions were fair and aboveboard. He moved that the further consideration of the Bill be deferred until after Easter.
To leave out from the words "That the" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "further Consideration of the Bill be postponed till this day three weeks,"—(Mr. Ayrton,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, that having sat on the Committee he wished to say that they had looked on the work as one of public and national utility. The promoters undertook to get rid of the sewage of the north of London beyond Barking Creek without the probability of its returning. Its success or failure as an agricultural operation was a secondary point with them, although they had every reason to believe that it would succeed in that respect extremely well. The only opposition was brought forward by a Mr. Ellis; and his opposition greatly confirmed the probability of success from the proposed mode of using the sewage. Messrs. Hope and Napier's plan combined all the benefits offered by Mr. Ellis, together with a great outlet for the sewage into the sea where it would be quite clear of the Thames. As to no capital being subscribed for the scheme, the House should recollect that very many railway Bills were passed without there being any bond fide subscription, 884 except that some engineer put his name down for a large sum. He trusted that the House would not allow the Bill to be put aside.
said, that as he was Chairman of the Select Committee to which this Bill was referred, he would state to the House as clearly as he could what took place. In the first place, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets had imported into this discussion a great deal of matter of which he (Mr. Headlam) did not think that that House could take cognizance. The hon. Gentleman had stated certain circumstances against the promoters of the Bill—namely, that they were not a company, and that they had made no deposit. Now, although the City of London opposed this Bill before the Committee, no objection on that ground was taken by them against it, and the Committee had every reason to suppose that this company was constituted in the regular form, that everything requested by the House in the nature of deposit had been performed, and certainly nothing took place before the Committee to lead them to suppose that any irregularity of that description had taken place. His hon. Friend supported the Bill, and he (Mr. Headlam) fully expected that he would have given them every assistance afterwards in passing it. He voted with the Committee on the preamble of the Bill, and he also voted with them, and they carried unanimously the Report which spoke in the most favourable terms of the plan now submitted to the House. When that particular Article, No. 15, came before the Committee no objection whatever was taken to it, nor was the attention of the Committee particularly directed to it, and it was only after the Committee had passed the agreement that his hon. Friend for the first time brought up the two clauses which were upon the paper, and which the Committee by a majority of five to two rejected, and, as he(Mr. Headlam) thought, rightly rejected. He now understood the object of his hon. Friend to be to get those two clauses which the Committee rejected inserted in the Bill. The first clause related to an auditor to be appointed by the Metropolitan Board of Works with extraordinary powers, the practical effect of which would have been that although that Board declined the responsibility of having a director, they would have had an auditor who might have objected to almost anything done by that company. He (Mr. 885 Headlam) voted against that clause, as he considered it would be an improper clause to insert in the Bill. He considered th1at the Metropolitan Board of Works were the guardians of the ratepayers, and that they need not go beyond them in considering the ratepayers' interests. He also objected to the other clause—that relating to an absolute forfeiture—as being too strong and arbitrary, and he consequently voted against it. He was perfectly willing to admit that Article 15 as it now stood was also objectionable, and ought to be altered. It left a power in the hands of the Secretary of State which it would be inconvenient for him to exercise. With this exception he did not think any alteration ought to be made in the Bill, and he should certainly object to the insertion of the clauses of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets.
said, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to confirm the necessity for postponing this Bill till after Easter, because from that it seemed there was a section in the agreement—Article 15—which was really objectionable and ought to be altered. In the meantime parties might lay their heads together and put the contract into an unobjectionable shape. He believed the general feeling was in favour of the Bill; but the House had to deal with a very grave question which the right hon. Gentleman had not touched. He said the Metropolitan Board of Works, who represented the ratepayers of the metropolis, were parties to the bargain, and the pro-meters of the Bill were the other parties; but the right hon. Gentleman did not tell them whether it was within the competence of the Metropolitan Board of Works, under the Acts of 1855 and 1858, to enter into speculative works, intrusted in the first instance to somebody else, to fertilize some I barren waste bordering on the German Ocean; and if they had not strictly that power the ratepayers of the metropolis might be called upon by the arbitrary fiat of the Secretary of State to recoup to these speculators no less a sum than perhaps £3,000,000. How was that to be raised? It seemed to him that the Board of Works had no power to enter into these speculations, and bind the ratepayers to recoup the money, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee had not ventured to say whether it was strictly within their power or not. Then it should be remembered that the Gazette notice 886 was as vague as possible. No one could have dreamed that under such a notice it was possible that the Metropolitan Board of Works were going to take on themselves this liability. The agreement itself had not been deposited; it was signed some time in February, and made its appearance only a few days ago. He gave no opinion as to whether the Bill should go on or not; but he hoped the hon. Gentleman who had charge of it would consent to what he considered the reasonable proposal made by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, in order that all parties interested might know what was coming on them; and the House would no doubt do what was right when the Bill next came up for consideration.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that he had stated to the promoters of the Bill the objections he entertained to this article of the agreement. The Bill provided that certain main culverts should be executed by the concessionaires within four years, and if they were not completed within that time the deposit of £25,000 to the Board of Works should be forfeited. It was quite possible the non-completion of the main culverts within the time specified might be accidental, without any fault of the concessionaires; but Article 15 provided that the Secretary of State should in such case certify whether the concessionaires should forfeit all their rights and privileges. That was a power which the Secretary of State would find it extremely difficult to exercise. But the Article went on to provide, if the Secretary of State determined that no forfeiture should take place, well and good; but in case of forfeiture, then he was to prescribe the terms, and those terms were to be final and binding. He thought the power to determine whether forfeiture should take place ought not to be intrusted to one Member of the Government, still less should the power of fixing the terms. Some other provision should be substituted for the 15th Article, probably some mode of arbitration; and as there was no opposition to the scheme itself he hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir William Russell) who had charge of the Bill would agree to its postponement till the 25th of April, by which time the parties might come to some satisfactory settlement as to Article 15.
§ MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, he thought it was the desire of the House that the Motion for the second reading should not be pressed. The Metropolitan Board of 887 Works took no responsibility in connection with this Bill. They said the works must be risked without any cost to the Board. They repudiated all responsibility in connection with the scheme, which would probably invoke the ratepayers in an expenditure of two or three millions. The postponement was very desirable, as it would not affect the rights of the concessionaires or the public.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he supported the Amendment. The 15th clause was entirely inconsistent with the principle recognized by the House in all private Bills affecting the property of the ratepayers. They should have a chance of being heard on the matter.
§ SIR WILLIAM RUSSELL
said, after the expressions of opinion by the right hon. Gentlemen the Secretary of State (Sir George Grey) and the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), and of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wilson Patten), he would agree to postpone the Bill till after Easter, giving due notice of the clause he intended to propose.
§ MR. BRADY
said, that as a Member of the Committee, he wished to state that the concession to Messrs. Napier and Hope was kept a secret from the Committee until after three days' examination of the members of the Board, though they had been repeatedly pressed to produce it. He was glad the postponement had been agreed to, otherwise he should have divided the House.
§ Amendment, and Motion, by leave withdrawn.
§ Further Consideration of the Bill deferred till Tuesday 25th April.