§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
moved, "That this Bill be now read a Second time." He explained that he made the Motion in his private capacity as a London Member, not speaking for the front Opposition Bench or in any way as a present or prospective member of the London County Council. When asked by the Council, he undertook the duty of moving the Second Reading. He had done so with some hope that, after the protracted and repeated discussions in the House, there would be a prospect of arriving at a general agreement. He would endeavour to deal with the subject with due moderation, and to avoid saying anything to aggravate the situation. There was no question of greater moment to the citizens and ratepayers of the Metropolis. Special attention had of late been drawn to the subject from the fact that there had been two or three occasions of late in certain parts of London of deficiency in the supply provided by at least one of the water companies. The Government, he understood, after lengthened consideration had come to the conclusion that they could not support the Second Reading of these Bills, and that made it more necessary for him to ask the indulgence of the House in stating the case for the promoters. Though the particular Bill before the House was that in relation to the Chelsea Company, the London County Council pledged itself to deal with the group of eight Bills upon one principle and system. It was scarcely necessary to discuss the question whether, as a matter of principle, it was advantageous and in the public interest that the water supply of a district should be under the control of the representatives of the ratepayers. In something like 45 out of 64 county boroughs the local authorities had the supply in their own hands, and it was quite certain that if any borough, except London, asked for leave to purchase its water supply, the House would immediately give its assent, of course on 434 a just and reasonable basis. The Secretary for the Colonies in his speech of last year dealt with this question of principle. He did not quote the words to bind the right hon. Gentleman to them, but they contained a general proposition to which the House would assent. The right hon. Gentleman, on the 24th March of last year, speaking on the Second Reading of these Bills, said:—In this matter, so far as the main principle goes, I am entirely in agreement. I do believe that after the fullest inquiry you will always come back to this—that the water supply of a great city ought to be in the hands of a representative authority. If you make a purchase on a fair basis it is desirable in the interests of everybody that what is absolutely a necessary of life, what is one of the most important adjuncts to the sanitary condition of a great population, should be under the control of the representatives of the people. Therefore I agree with the County Council in what I believe to be their main object.He considered he was justified in quoting those words. But they were told that the complexity and difficulty of dealing with the London question, on account of the size of the metropolis, put it apart from this general principle, and that it ought to be dealt with on a different basis. In his opinion, however, that was a greater and not a lesser reason for dealing with the matter as one of urgency. The whole of the eight London water companies varied as to the quantity and quality of the water, as to pressure and constancy of supply, as to the rating and charge, and to the burden of charge, and as to the cost of administration and of profits. Roughly speaking, the richer parts were better served and at a cheaper rate than the poorer districts.
§ MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
The charge per thousand gallons by the East London Company is much less than the charge per thousand gallons by any of the other companies. It is because the rateable value is lower that the percentage charged is higher, but the charge per head of the population is much less.
§ MR. BUXTON
thought the hon. Member would find from the statistics that the charge on rateable value, taken all round, was heavier by the East London Water Company than by the Chelsea Company, with which they were at present dealing. But he did not desire to dwell on that, for his contention was that in the Metropolis, as in large municipalities, the 435 charges for water ought to be uniform for all equal supply to all the inhabitants, and that any surplus should go in reduction of the charges made to the consumers. If they were to amalgamate the eight water companies, it was obvious that a considerable economy would be effected in the cost of administration, and in other ways by which the consumer would benefit. The cost of management of the London water companies varied from 4s. per head in the highest case to 2s. 1d. in the lowest, whereas the highest charge of any great municipality was 2s. 4d. per head, as against 1s. 2d., the lowest in a great municipality like Leeds. ["Hear, hear!"] Again, the London companies profited by the annual increase of the rateable value of the metropolis, "the unearned increment," because their charges were based upon it, and the result was that, without spending a single sixpence upon extra works, they received, he did not think it was an exaggeration to say, something like £10,000 a year extra profit without doing anything additional for it. If the companies were purchased the whole of that additional advantage would go to the ratepayers instead of to private companies. ["Hear, hear!"] It had been generally agreed that some change was desirable, and the Government substantially admitted that by the introduction of their Bill of last year. In introducing that Bill Lord James of Hereford said the Measure had been framed on the assumption that there existed a great and growing opinion that the time had come when the management of the water supply of the metropolis and the surrounding districts should be vested in the hands of a responsible and public representative body. That was the basis upon which the present Bills were introduced, and the County Council were further justified in their action in this matter by the Report of the Select Committee of 1891, presided over by the present Home Secretary, which recommended that the London County Council should be made the responsible water authority for London, and that when so constituted it should be required to purchase, either alone or in conjunction with the authorities of the outside area, the undertakings of the eight water companies. He therefore said that the London County Council, after the statement of the Government, and after the reports of the different Com- 436 mittees which had considered this question, were justified, may, were bound to, promote these Bills. In asking the House to assent to the Second Reading, he was not asking them to indorse the principle that the London County Council should necessarily be the future water authority throughout London. The House was in no sense of the term asked to indorse the principle of the authority proposed in these Bills. The question of the authority was open to the consideration of the Committee, and it was obvious that if ever an authority were created it would take over any powers conferred on the County Council by Parliament. The only principle really involved, and to which he asked the House to assent, was that laid down by the Colonial Secretary—that the water companies ought no longer to be private concerns, but in the possession and under the control of the representatives of the ratepayers in London and elsewhere. So the question to a large extent became one of urgency and one of terms. Last year the Bills were opposed because the Government intended to pass this Bill. But the Bill introduced by the Government had disappeared, and it was stated, with some authority, that the Government had no intention this Session to introduce anything in the nature of a comprehensive Bill to create a water authority. But the Government stated that they would appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the financial aspects of the purchase of the London water companies by the ratepayers; and to introduce a modern Measure of temporary control. The appointment of a Royal Commission was simply an excuse for further delay—[Ministerial cries of "No!"]—while, by the Second Reading of the Bills before the House the position would not be prejudiced, time would be saved, and the present authority in London enabled to initiate a purchase scheme. How could any Royal Commission at the present moment give any opinion which would be of value in the matter? The only question in doubt just now was that of the price which should be paid in the purchase of the water companies' undertakings. A Measure of temporary control would not carry the question of purchase any further than before, and the existence of the Royal Commission on the subject would tend to delay. In his opinion and that of 437 the County Council the matter was too urgent to be met by a dilatory plea of the appointment of a Royal Commission and a "modest" Measure of control. The Uncertainty as to the future of the water companies—whether they were to go on, be amalgamated, controlled, or purchased—was serious for the consumers and the water companies themselves. The Committee of last year, to which some of the Bills were referred, included a majority of the supporters of the Government; yet it unanimously expressed the opinion that the present position of the matter was not in accordance with the public interest, and things were in an anomalous position from which it would be to the public interest that the water companies and the inhabitants of London should be free. If the question which had so long been before Parliament were opened again, to be re-negotiated, it would be delayed for many years, and perhaps for ever. The objections to the Bill, apart from principle, were three, and related to detail, arbitration, and outside areas. The position of the debenture and shareholders in the companies in the event of purchase was a matter which might well be left to a Committee of the House. The real point after all was that of the price to be paid for the water companies' property, and the method of arriving at a price which would be just and fair on both sides. The County Council were willing to give a fair and just price. He admitted that the arbitration clause in the Bill of 1895 was hardly a fair or just one. [Ministerial cheers.] But that clause had disappeared, and the proposal now made was contained in Clause 7 of each of the eight Bills before the House. For himself and those who were promoting Bill, he might say there was no desire that the price to be given should be otherwise than just and fair. That was properly and fairly provided for in the clause to which he had referred. He could safely say that the London country Council was unanimously of opinion that this clause was just one as between buyer and seller. Last year the Government had said that in dealing with questions of this sort they ought not to introduce a new system of purchase, but ought to proceed on the well-recognised principle of the Lands Clauses Act. There was no doubt great force in that contention, but special circumstances might very well require special treatment. 438 That Act was intended for purchases of land chiefly by railway companies and local authorities, and, after all, the question of the land was in this case by far the smallest interest involved. This purchase was not one that could be adequately dealt with under the Lands Clauses Act, for he was informed that, looking to the limitation contained in the Act, and to the practice that prevailed in interpreting that Act, circumstances that ought to receive due weight in this case could not be entertained by the arbitrators in considering the price. Take two points. It would be necessary to consider the question of how far, under the statutory obligations of the companies, the present needs of London in regard to water supply were adequately supplied, and how far future requirements would involve additional expenditure by these companies. That was an essential question, and it was one which they were advised could not be taken into account without some alteration of the Lands Clauses Act. They believed that under the Lands Clauses Act it would not be possible for the arbitrators, dealing as they did with present income as the real basis on which they assessed a claim, to capitalise the purchase price of the different companies on just terms. In one case a company might be spending an inadequate sum upon filtration and supply, and matters of that sort, while another company might be spending a much larger sum for improving the supply that was given to the ratepayers. Those two points ought necessarily to be taken into account in considering the value. Then there was another objection, namely, to the custom which had grown up under the Lands Clauses Act. Under the Lands Clauses system, as it had been interpreted by many arbitrators, there was a practical direction to the arbitrator that he was not only to take into account the actual value, but to give something for incidental injury, which was usually in round numbers an increased sum 10 per cent. This was given to the individual for disturbance and for satisfaction of sentiment, but there was no sentiment connected with a water share. These were matters in regard to which the Committee to which the Bill was referred would have full power of deciding what was a full and fair value. The London 439 County Council did not in any sense desire that the price should be other than a fair and just one, but they were determined, as far as they could, to protect themselves from extravagant claims, and from exorbitant prices being given to the water company's shareholders. Then as to the important point of the outside areas and the outside authorities, the House would remember that last year the President of the Local Government Board and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, had referred at some length to this matter. The former had said that there must be co-operation between the council and the outside authorities. The Secretary of State for the Colonies had said that they must take into account the outside authorities, and must consider the question of sentiment. He had said that it was no good riding rough-shod over them, or pressing a Bill to which they objected. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. But this year, and even within the last few weeks, there had been, he was glad to say, a considerable development in this direction. As regarded these outside areas and outside authorities the London County Council had come to a provisional agreement with every one of them, with the exception of the Middlesex County Council. [An HON. MEMBER: "A very important one!"] He admitted that that was an important exception, but he believed, if the Bill were passed on the understanding that they should come to an agreement, the County Council would also be willing to come to terms. [Col. LOCKWOOD: "Essex."] He understood that they had come to provisional terms with the Essex County Council. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hertfordshire."] He believed that as a matter of fact some satisfactory negotiations had been come to with Hertfordshire, but practically they were not consumers of water that came to the metropolis. The point he was dealing with was the question of these authorities as consumers of water, not purchasers. He himself thought, as he knew by experience as a fisherman, that they took too much water from Hertfordshire. With the exception of the county of Middlesex, the other authorities had come to provisional agreements which would ultimately become regular agreements.
§ COL. LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he did not think the hon. Member 440 was right about Essex. He understood that the agreement was not signed, and that they refused to sign it the other day.
§ MR. BUXTON
said he was glad of the interruption, as he did not wish to mislead the House. But he understood that the position as regarded Essex and other authorities, was that they had made provisional agreements, and were ready practically to abide by the decision of the House of Commons if this matter was settled. The position this year was very different from what it was last year, as the outside authorities were substantially prepared to support the Second Reading of the Bill, with the idea that the matter should be properly considered in Committee. With regard to the question of arbitration, they suggested what they believed to be a fair proposal. Then, in regard to the outside area, they were in a more advanced position than last year. As to the question of the authority, the House would not bind itself by reading the Bill a Second time to any particular authority. All the Second Reading would mean was, that the House was in favour of dealing with the question by the purchase of the water companies. He submitted to the House a complete and definite scheme of purchase. If the Government were not prepared to accept the scheme of the Bill for the settlement of the question, he hoped they would introduce some other plan which would have immediate application, and not approve of any policy of delay, which would only increase the ultimate cost of the settlement of the question to the ratepayers, and probably do great damage to the efficiency of the water supply of London. [Cheers.]
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)
moved to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." He said it was only on public grounds that he opposed the Measure. On the last occasion the question was before the House the Leader of the Opposition had suggested he was interested in the London water companies. He wished, therefore, to state distinctly that he did not hold a single debenture or a single share in the London water companies—["hear, hear!"]—and the only connection he had with them was, that he endeavoured to make them pay as much as possible to the Thames Con- 441 servancy. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought it was a pity that the London County Council should have disregarded the decision, averse from their scheme, which the House of Commons arrived at last year, in a full House and after prolonged debate. The London County Council had also brought in their Bills with a full knowledge of the fact that the Government were not favourable to their scheme. Lord James of Hereford had declared in the House of Lords last year, on the introduction of the Bill for creating a Metropolitan Home Counties Water Trust,that it was not expedient, to transfer to the London County Council the great business of administering the water supply, both within and without the Metropolis, as now furnished by the eight companies.Then why had they brought in eight Bills when one Bill would have sufficed? He believed it was done in the hope that they would ultimately oust the water companies from their position by putting them to enormous costs. ["Hear, hear!"] It was indeed a monstrous thing that the water companies should be called upon year after year to defend, by means of the ratepayers' money, the rights given them by Parliament, when that money might be employed towards the reduction of the rates; and those rights had to be defended against a public body with an unlimited supply of public money. [Cheers.] He saw it stated that that body had spent £66,000 on Parliamentary proceedings during the last four years; and it was nothing less than a public scandal that the public, who held the shares of the water companies, should have, as ratepayers, to bear their share of that expenditure and have their dividends reduced in consequence of those proceedings. [Cheers.] It was stated in the Queen's Speech that the Government were going to deal with the London water question; and he thought it was the duty of the House to see that Measure, before it placed on the water companies the enormous cost of fighting the Bills of the London County Council before the Committees upstairs. But if, from any cause, the Government Measure were not brought in this Session, he had introduced a Bill which met the difficulties of the case without bringing in any fresh element of discord; and the London County Council had attempted to get that Bill disallowed on a technical 442 point before the Standing Orders Committee. There were only two important reasons why any alteration in the present system of water supply in London should be made. The first was security against the chance of water famine in the future; and the second was economical management with a view to saving expense to the ratepayers and consumers. Neither of those points was met by the Bills of the London County Council. ["Hear, hear!"]They simply introduced new elements of discord in raising the question between the inner and the outer circles, and trampled upon private rights in a manner never dreamt of except by the London County Council. [Cheers.] In regard to his first point, the prevention of a water famine, no amalgamation of the undertakings was proposed, and there was no plan for making the water supply interchangeable, and, for all practicable purposes, the public would obtain no advantage by the purchase. Then, with regard to the question of economy, which, as it affected the ratepayers, ought to be the main consideration, he found, from a Parliamentary Return quoted in all article on the water supply of London and other large towns, in The Times of January 18th, that the working classes and water consumers occupying small houses paid a lower rate in London than in great towns where the municipality managed the supply. For houses of the rateable value of £10 the water rate was, in Birmingham, 10s.; in Manchester, 11s.; in Liverpool, 13s. 6d.; while in London it was only 9s. 9d.; [Cheers.] For £20 houses the water rate was, in Birmingham, £1 10s.; in Liverpool, £1 5s. 11d.; in Manchester, £1 1s.; in London, 19s. 7d. For £30 houses the rate was, in Birmingham, £2 10s.; in Liverpool, £1 17s. 2d.; Manchester, £1 11s.; and in London, £1 9s. 8d. That showed that, in regard to water supply, the working classes were better off in London than in any provincial town. [Cheers.] Then there was the question of the purity of the water supply; and in regard to that important question purchase would place the consumers at it distinct disadvantage. The purity depended on filtering, which required constant care and watching. At present the officers had the fear of the County Council before their eyes. They knew they were supervised by a watchful 443 and not too friendly critic. But if the supply was controlled by the London County Council, who would criticise them? [Cheers.] Then came the question of quantity. The companies were bound to supply sufficient quantity as well as quality; and there would have been no water famine in East London last summer were it not for the action of the London County Council. It certainly would be a singular action to take the control of those who knew and desired to do their duty, and give it to those who had prevented that duty being fulfilled. ["Hear, hear!"] But those eight Water Bills were not the whole story. What about the additional supply Bill of the London County Council? It might be said that it was dropped; but if that were so, what about the present proceedings of the London County Council? Did not they show that the London County Council still intended to persevere with their Welsh scheme? On the 5th February 1897 the Water Committee of the London County Council reported in favour of the continuance by the engineer of the surveys in relation to the Welsh scheme of supply, and the Water Committee recommended that, for that purpose, the services of Mr. Rumsby at a salary of £250 a year, and three other gentlemen at salaries of £200 a year each, should be retained until the 31st March 1898. Previous to that, on the 27th October 1896, notwithstanding the Report of the Royal Commission as to the quality of the water, the London County Council directed chemical examination of the water to be made for a period of six months, at a cost of £10 per week in order to prove that, notwithstanding that the water is constantly analysed on behalf of the Government by Dr. Frankland, that the water they propose to purchase at the cost of £40,000,000 is objectionable in quality, and must be superseded by a new source of supply. Now, what was the cost of this proposed second supply? According to the London County Council's own estimate, it was 55 millions—38 millions for cost of construction, 15 millions for storage, and two millions for expenses. As Chairman of the Thames Conservancy, he had naturally studied the subject very carefully, and he had no hesitation in saying that the whole supply necessary for London could easily be obtained, if it was taken 444 at proper times and in a proper manner, from the Thames. The storage of the water in the reservoirs was the proper system to adopt. If it were taken from the Thames when the water was above a certain height no inconvenience would be caused; and as to its purity, the additional powers for purification given to the Conservancy by Parliament secured that water from the Thames was as pure as it could be found anywhere. The Chairman of the Water Committee of the London County Council, in a Report drawn up in 1894, estimated the financial cost of the purchase of the present water companies at 30 millions, and found thatto provide annual expenditure and repayment of capital, the present water rates, over the whole area of Water London, will have to be increased by at least 30 per cent.And "the London ratepayer," added the Report,may find that in a very few years he has to incur an expenditure of some £20,000,000, in abandoning altogether the Thames as a source of supply, and his rates will be raised in respect of this by a further sum of 6d. in the pound.This was the London County Councils own estimate, which was not likely to be put too high; and all this enormous increase was to be undertaken simply to gratify the vanity of the London County Council, and this would be further indefinitely increased if the advocates of "free water" prevailed, in which case the whole cost would fall on the ratepayers; and he would like to know at what rate would the London County Council be able to borrow the £100,000,000 necessary to carry out this scheme? At present the charges of the water companies were statutory, and could not be increased; and any new works might diminish dividends. But there would be no limit to the charges which the London County Council might impose. Moreover, they would be bound to make provision for the redemption of capital, from Which provision the Companies were exempt. This gave a prospect of a 4d. rate for the old supply and another 4d. rate for the new supply, besides the 6d. in the pound for the Welsh scheme, and the ordinary rate increased by 30 per cent. Another important fact was that the dividends of the companies were limited to 10 per cent. Anything 445 above that went in the reduction of the price of water. Four of the companies had reached the limit; three were on the verge of it, and only one was much below it. Therefore the consumers had a very valuable property in these companies, which would be totally lost if the County Councils bought, the undertakings. The Bill, therefore, could not benefit the public either in greater certainty of supply or in economy; and although that should settle the question, there were further objections in respect of area and private rights. The area covered by the companies was 620 square miles. The area of the London County Council was Only 122 square miles. London was nearly filled up, and its outside area was growing daily. The County of Middlesex—the most important of the areas surrounding London—was utterly and entirely opposed to this scheme in any shape or form. Unless absolutely compelled by Parliament, it would not consent to any arrangement whatever with the London County Council. The counties of Essex and Hertfordshire were also opposed to the scheme. To get over the difficulty, an attempt had been made this year to bribe the outside areas, but the more the scheme was looked into the less it would be found to bear discussion. The offer to give a proportion of the water to the outside districts was utterly unworkable, and would be a glaring disadvantage to both parties; and as far as the district authorities were concerned, some of the provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the powers conferred on them by the Public Health Act 1875. But, the result of the Bill, if carried, instead of promoting amalgamation, would be that instead of eight water authorities there would be 30 or 40 all round London. That might be a pleasent prospect for engineers and secretaries, but, it would be decidedly bad for the public. Lastly, as to the position of the debenture and shareholders. The scheme of the Bill was to give the London County Council possession of the works and books, accounts and documents of the company on three months' notice, expiring in March 1898, or March 1899, at the option of the Council, quite irrespective of whether the purchase money had then been paid or even arrived at. The proposal that a notice should have the effect of vesting properly was not only fundamentally opposed to the provisions 446 of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, which required payment to be made or secured before possession was given, but was also contrary to the elementary principles of justice. Let the House imagine a vendor going to arbitration when his property, books, accounts, and documents were in, the custody of his opponents. But that was not all. These Bills not only dealt, inadequately with the case of officers and servants, but obliged them to enter into the service of the purchasers before the purchase was complete; so that possibly they would have to apply their energies in counteracting, the claims of their old employers to honest compensation. As to the question of arbitration, the hon. Member who moved the Bill admitted that the principle of 1895 was improper, but he would not then undertake to withdraw it. Now the County Council and each company might agree on a single arbitrator, or each side might appoint one, and a third might be added by the High Court. These three arbitrators were to sit together. No umpire was appointed, so the award must be unanimous. If the arbitrators were not unanimous, a lengthy and ruinous arbitration would be simply wasted. But, if the arbitrators agreed, why were they not to act under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, under which all railway and other companies had acquired their property? The Act had stood the test of 50 years, and had proved sufficient for the transfer of 100 millions' worth of property. The hon. Member for Poplar had explained that, it was not fair to give the companies the 10 per cent. compensation given to private people whose properly was taken. The Shareholders of the companies were private persons. Why should they not have their full rights?
§ MR. BUXTON
I said that there was a material difference. In one case a private individual is dispossessed of his house or land and is put to some considerable inconvenience; and it is recognised by custom that such a case is entitled to compensation. But in the other case—that of the shareholder—so long, as he has full compensation for the value of his shares, there can be no claim for sentimental or material injury.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
said that the Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts were employed when the purchase of the 447 water companies of Liverpool, Birmingham, Northampton, Lincoln, Wolverhampton, and Middlesbrough was carried through; and when these Bills were last discussed, on March 25 1896, the President of the Local Government Board and the Colonial Secretary were very strong on the question. But in what position does this Bill leave the unfortunate debenture, and shareholders? The London County Council had been advised that the arbitrations might last for several years, and, in the meanwhile, the shareholders were not empowered to transfer their holdings. Thus the market value of perhaps 40 millions of property would for years be unsaleable. And these shares, be it remembered, were largly held by the poor people of this country. ["Oh!"] The debenture stock is a trustee stock, of which its security will be absolutely taken away, as not only its interest, but, the shareholders will only be entitled to dividend so far as either the London County Council or outside authorities may carry on the various undertakings so as to yield a profit, and there is no provision to oblige them to continue them at all. The fact was, what the London County Council called equitable treatment, was regarded by plain folks as barefaced robbery. He hoped the House would reject a Measure which was unfair to the consumers, unfair to the ratepayers, unfair to the companies, and unfair to the outer areas alike.
§ MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
, in seconding the Amendment, said that, apart from the question of the County Council being the water authority, he was very much in agreement with those who desired that this matter should be speedily dealt with, and he adopted to a considerable extent the arguments of the hon. Member for Poplar. For instance, he agreed that the management of the water supply of the metropolis should be in the hands of a representative authority—[Ministerial cheers]—that the differences in different parts of London required to be equalised, alike in regard to charges and the supply per head of the population, and also as to the urgency of the 448 question. He regarded it as a matter of the greatest urgency that the question should be promptly dealt with, and they had reason to believe that the Government itself shared that view. If he and others on the Ministerial side had reason to believe that the Government took that view, they would, notwithstanding their great objection to the County Council being the water authority, have been prepared to support the Second Reading of those Bills. [Ministerial cheer and cries of "No, no!"] He desired it to be understood that he had not the slightest objection to the London County Council as a council. It was quite true the present constitution of that body did not entirely please him, but he had never railed at it; it was the creation of their own Party, and he had sufficient confidence in the ratepayers of London to believe that they were perfectly capable of electing a County Council thoroughly competent to discharge the municipal business of the metropolis. The question of areas, in his opinion, was still a dominant factor in the situation. Notwithstanding the fact that certain agreements had been come to as between the County Council and bodies outside, it hardly required all argument to show that it world be absurd to allow the London County Council, which only represents 120 square miles, to control the water supply of an area of 620 square miles. He had never seen those agreements; was the hon. Member for Poplar prepared to make one of them public?
§ MR. BUXTON
If the Bill passes Second Reading, the agreements would go before the Committee in due form. [A laugh.]
§ MR. BOUSFIELD
pointed out that a knowledge of the provisions of those agreements was of enormous importance at the present stage. Unless one knew the principle on which the whole of the undertaking was to be divided between the central and the outside areas, it was obvious, injustice might be done to the citizens of London. He wanted to know what the outside authorities were prepared to pay for the share they would have in the undertakings upon the basis of their prospective value. Unless the 449 County of London was to be treated on that basis, it would be far better to go, not for purchase, but simply for control.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
, who was received with Ministerial cheers, said that it would be for the convenience of the House, and would probably save time if he stated the course which the Government intended to take upon the Motion before the House. The position of the London water question, in one respect at all events, appeared to him to have considerably changed from what it was a year or more ago. The hon. Gentleman deprecated further delay, and pressed upon the House the extreme urgency of the question, and in one sense, no doubt, his statement was justified. The recurrence of a water famine in two successive years in the East End of London, following as it did failures in supply in other parts of London in consequence of prolonged frost, undoubtedly did bring home to the minds of water consumers in London in the most unpleasant manner the importance of this question to them, and these occurrences gave rise to demands, sometimes very exigent, for legislation that would prevent a repetition of these failures in future. He sympathised entirely with that demand and assured the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that the Government, were endeavouring by every means in their power to meet it. It was right the House should be remainded of what it was that led to the water famine in 1896. There was no escape from the conclusion that the famines that occurred in East End of London were caused by the want of sufficient storage for the water supply of the East London Company, and that insufficiency of storage power was due to the action of the London County Council in the year 1893. ["Hear, hear!"] The East London Company, who had foreseen the necessity for making further application for storage, and were prepared to do so, in that year introduced a Bill for the purpose. But that Bill was opposed with all the power they could bring against it by the London County Council and, although they were warned of the danger of their course, and although it was pointed out to them by no less an authority than the Chairman of Committees that they would incur great responsibility, the County Council insisted on 450 throwing out the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Again, in 1894, the East London Company in the fulfilment of its duty came before Parliament with another Bill on the subject, and again it was opposed by the London County Council, and not only by the Council, but by the President of the Local Government Board at the time—Mr. Shaw Lefevre. ["Hear, hear!"] On that occasion, however, happily the London County Council and the President of the Local Government Board were defeated, though only by a majority of one. ["Hear, hear!"] If the Bill had been defeated on that occasion he trembled to think what might have been the consequences to the inhabitants of the east of London last year. ["Hear!"] The happy consequence of the defeat of the Council was that to-day the position was altogether different, for the works contemplated in that Bill had been rapidly proceeded with, and he was informed that in a few weeks from now the works would be completed, and when completed the storage power of the company would be absolutely doubled. ["Hear, hear!"] Prior to March 1896 the East London Company possessed reservoirs to store 600,000,000 gallons. At the commencement of this year they had, as a consequence of the Bill which had been so bitterly opposed by the Council, increased the storage to 1,000 minion gallons, and within the next few weeks the storage will be increased to 1,200 million gallons. ["Hear, hear!"] As the result, he was told that anything in the nature of a recurrence of a water famine became exceedingly remote. That was not all. Another Bill was brought forward by the same company only the other day for the purpose of still further increasing the storage power, and that Bill had been read, he was glad to say, a Second time, and would, he hoped, become law at no distant date. Under this the storage power of the East London Company would be increased to nearly 2,500 million gallons. Under such circumstances, it might be said apprehension of a recurrence of a water famine disappeared. He mentioned these facts to the House, not because he desired in any way to minimise the importance of the subject, but because he thought it was only right and due to the House that it should be placed in possession of the information he had on the subject, for it might be a factor of some importance in determining the 451 decision on the present occasion. With regard to the Bill which the hon. Member had asked the House to read a Second time, the policy of the County Council, so far as he could gather from the speech of the hon. Member, appeared to be as follows. They were to acquire the property by purchase of eight different London water companies, subject, however, to agreements which he understood had been made with the representatives of all but one of the water areas outside the jurisdiction of the County Council. There appeared to be some difference of opinion on that point with hon. Members behind him.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
explained that he had consulted the Essex authorities and found that, though technically right, the hon. Member was practically wrong.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the effect of these agreements appeared to be this. While the County Council would maintain and control the supply within the limits of their jurisdiction, and also that of the areas with which no agreements had been made, yet the supply within the other areas in respect to which agreements would be made would be managed and controlled by the authorities who represented them. So far as he knew, it had been the object of all parties in the House to have one area for London; but under this Bill there would be a number of areas and a number of different authorities all severed from each other. The policy of the County Council, in fact, as between its own area and the areas outside seemed to be a policy of severance and separation. So far as he had any knowledge of the subject this was a new departure—["No, no!"]—an entirely new solution of the water difficulty of London. Although, undoubtedly, it was a possible principle that representative authorities should be invested with the control of their own water supply, if it could be shown that the proposals were businesslike and practicable, it was unfortunately alleged by competent authorities that the proposal was open to two of the greatest possible objections. It was contended by many authorities on the subject, first, that this was not a practicable scheme, and, secondly, it was urged that it would be most injurious to the ratepayers, and particularly to those within the limits of the jurisdiction of the County Council. With 452 reference to the first difficulty, it was urged that the mere physical difficulty of separating all these sources of supply, the mains, the pipes, and the whole machinery of distribution, would be enormous and expensive, and when the great number of different authorities were taken into account, all of whom would have to be dealt with, he was told the scheme would end in a chaos of confusion. Such was the objection taken to the first part of the proposal. Secondly, it had been pointed out that the burden on London ratepayers would be increased, because only the outside areas would have an opportunity of reaping any increase in returns from the increased consumption of water by a rapidly-growing population. He owned that these were objections of great importance, and it was manifest, he thought, that before they gave their sanction to any of these proposals they must be carefully examined and cleared up. They were told that the promoters were perfectly agreed, and that a committee was the proper tribunal. He had considered the matter, and there were objections which he desired to point out to the House. Who were the parties to appear before the Committee? They had the companies on the one hand, as a matter of course, and on the other the representatives of the County Council and the outside areas. How, under the circumstances, the interests of the ratepayers were to be represented he did not see. [Cheers.] Of course that House might give them a locus standi, but the ratepayers would have to do it at their own cost, at an expense which no private individual ought to be expected to incur; it was notorious that in the County Council itself there was the widest difference of opinion, and although the decision to proceed with these Bills was taken by a small majority, there was a powerful opposition. It would be impossible for that powerful opposition to be heard before the Committee. Quite apart from this, there were wider and broader questions to be considered which they would have to consider. Let them reflect on the object which they ought to have in view in dealing with the companies. First there was the point that the water to be supplied was of proper quality; the second was whether it was of adequate quantity, and that a failure of supply should be rendered as far as pos- 453 sible impossible. The third point was that it should be supplied as cheaply as possible to the ratepayers. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading objected to the present quality of the water on the ground that it varied very considerably, and he also said that the wealthier part of London was charged more cheaply than other parts. On that point he was emphatically contradicted, and with regard to the quality the Commissioners reported:—We are strongly of opinion that the water supplied to the consumer in London is of a very high standard of excellence and purity and suitable for all household purposes.["Hear, hear!"] There was no reservation with that statement.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, with regard to the quantity of water, Lord Balfour's Commission stated that from the existing sources there was available 35 gallons per diem for a population of 12 millions of people. As to the third condition, cheapness, he would be a bold man who would be prepared to say that the policy of purchase would be an economical policy in the interest of the ratepayers. ["Hear, hear!"] He had a very shrewd suspicion that the very opposite would be the case if the policy of purchase were carried out. Before they gave their sanction to purchase there must be an inquiry into different matters, such as what would be the financial result to the ratepayers. On this point they were almost completely in the dark. Then, should there be one area and one authority, or more than one? In particular, was this policy if severance and separation practicable and feasible? It must be remembered that there were two main lines of policy. There was the policy of acquisition on the one hand, and there was the policy of control on the other. They might consider as to the last-named whether additional control over the companies could be exercised with advantage. Another matter of importance was how far it was practicable to connect together any two or more of the water systems, and in that way obviate the danger of any water famine in the future. What the Government proposed to do was to oppose the Second Reading of the Bills—[cheers] and if the Bills should be defeated, then 454 they should appoint a Royal Commission—[ironical cheers]—to carry out the inquiry into the matters he had indicated. They thought the Commission should be a small one, and as to the precise terms of reference, he should be prepared to place them before the House shortly. This Commission, he thought, might report in a reasonable time. Meanwhile, they thought that something might be done by the introduction of a Measure this Session to strengthen and improve the position of the water consumers in the metropolis. It had been a common cause of complaint on any failure to fulfil their obligations on the part of the companies that it was extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for the water consumer to get adequate redress. They thought if means were, given to the aggrieved consumer for obtaining redress more easily than at present, that would be a great advantage and boon to him pending the inquiry. He could not then give the details of the methods they proposed to adopt, because to do so at that moment would be out of order, but they proposed to lay them before that House shortly. He had indicated to the best of his ability the alternatives which the Government intended to propose to the Second Reading of the Bills, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that, in opposing these Bills, he was actuated by no spirit of animosity towards the London County Council. ["Hear, hear!"] What the cost of carrying out the proposals contained in the Bills would be to the ratepayers of the metropolis he could not say, but he had heard it stated that night by his hon. Friend behind him that if the London County Council were to attempt to carry them out they would be embarking upon an expenditure of between £70,000,000 and £100,000,000 of money. That would necessarily cast an enormous additional burden upon the ratepayers, and such a burden ought not to be imposed upon them without a careful inquiry by a tribunal before whom those representing the ratepayers might be heard. For the reasons he had given, although he greatly regretted that he should now, for the second time within a short period, have been brought into conflict with the London County Council, he felt that he had no alternative but to oppose the Second Reading of these Bills.["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said that he had heard with much regret that the Government intended to throw out these Bills. To refer this question to a Royal Commission for further inquiry would be to hang it up for a considerable time, while it would undoubtedly strengthen the position of the London water companies against the public. He was surprised, and much regretted, that the Government should now propose to do over again what had already been done. He, however, could scarcely wonder at the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to refer this question to a Royal Commission when he remembered that in the earlier part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman had asserted that the proposals made by the London County Council in these Bills were absolutely new. The right hon. Gentleman was entirely mistaken in that assumption. ["Hear, hear!"] During the last 15 years the London water question had been inquired into by commissions and committees of all kinds, and only recently, in 1891, the question had been considered in all its aspects by one of the most important Committees of that House that had ever sat, and which had been presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary. That Committee went into precisely the question into which the right hon. Gentleman now proposed that inquiry should be made, and it was upon the Report of that Committee and of another Committee that the present Bills were founded. ["Hear, hear!"] The arbitration clause was specially based upon the Report of those Committees. Whatever faults might be found in these Bills might easily be pointed out before the Committee upstairs, and be dealt with by them in the event of the Bills being read a Second time. Having framed their Bills upon the recommendations in the Reports of those Committees, what was the next proper step for the London County Council to take? It was to lay those Bills before the House of Commons, a course which they were then taking. In his view, in the circumstances of the case, the Government ought to permit these Bills to be read a Second time in order that they might be sent before a Committee upstairs, who could examine into the proposals embodied in them and see how far they would operate for the bene- 456 fit of the public. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the ratepayers of London and of the outlying areas ought to be heard before Committee. Was there ever such an extraordinary statement made before? Surely the London County Council were the representatives of the London ratepayers, and were the only persons who ought to be heard on their behalf. ["Hear, hear!"] Had private individuals been heard in the case of the Bill for the supply of water to Birmingham? Certainly not. It was only the Town Council and the County Council that were heard as the representatives of the ratepayers. He submitted that it would be idle to refer all the questions relating to the London water supply, that had been inquired into over and over again, to a Royal Commission, who would have to go over all the ground again. Why should that House follow the Report of a Royal Commission if they were going to disregard the reports of their own Committees which had been appointed by their predecessors? A Royal Commission would have no better means of investigating the circumstances, and could have no better sources of information than the Committees of that House had had, or than a Committee of that House would have if the Bills were read a Second time. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said that it was necessary to inquire how the proposals in that Bill would affect the ratepayers financially. That would entirely depend upon how much the London County Council were going to give the water companies for their undertakings, and who was to manage those undertakings when the purchase had been effected. No one could so well decide how much should be given for the undertakings as a Committee of that House, and it would be for the ratepayers to determine how the undertakings should be managed. Now that the fate of the Bills was sealed, he did not think that it would be worth while to discuss the details of the proposals which they contained. It had been stated that the actual charge for water was less in other places than it was in London. In Birmingham the charge for a £37 10s. house was £2 17s.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I mentioned the small houses of £10, £20, and £30 a year.
§ MR. STUART
said that when a comparison was made between London and Birmingham, it was necessary to say with what company in London the comparison was made, because the charges of some companies in London were practically double those of others. He would like to point out that one or two mistakes had been made in this discussion. It had been said that 30 or 40 authorities were to be established under the Bill. That was not so. There would only be 7 or 8. In the next place they had been told that 55 millions of money was to be spent by the County Council on some Welsh scheme. That sum was erroneous. It would be nothing like it. But that did not affect the question of purchase, because if water was required from a distance, that was a question of fact the House would have to determine whatever was done on the present Bill; and whether it was the County Council or the companies who had to get water from a distance, it would have in the circumstances identically the same effect, namely, that the people who got the water would have to pay for it. The statement had been made that the County Council were constantly harassing the water companies—["hear, hear"]—and that they had spent £66,000 in Parliamentary work. He had no doubt that figure was correct, though he had no means of verifying it; but he would like to point out that this was only the second time they had introduced a Purchase Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] All their other business with water companies had consisted in criticising and dealing with their Bills and in almost every case, he thought he might say in all cases, when those Bills had come before a Committee, they had carried the demands they had made—["hear, hear!"]—and in doing so, they had saved the people of London an enormous amount of money. Last year he sat on a Committee which worked long and laboriously, and that Committee was convinced that water concessions would have to be made. They reported to the House pointing out how bad it was for London that the present position should continue, and they showed the positions of water companies with reference to purchase, and expressed the hope that the question might be fairly settled. That was because they were conscious that large concessions would have to be made, and if they were to be made to private 458 companies at this stage, their effect on the price that would have to be paid for the present undertakings, let alone any further undertakings, as improved by them, was certainly a very serious item for consideration. ["Hear, hear!"] The result of that night's Debate and of the resolution of the Government would be to add many millions to the sum which London would have to give for these undertakings in the future. He could only beg the House to support the Council in the division on this Bill, and he hoped that those Members on the Unionist side who so disliked the County Council, might still come round to vote for the Bill. He was convinced that the House would find no other authority except the County Council possible. ["Hear, hear!"] It was but beating the air to imagine that any authority but the existing representative authorities, who were concerned in their own localities, could be created. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
thought he would be expressing the feeling of the majority of London Members when he said that they had heard with much satisfaction the statement of the President of the Local Government Board. The result of the discussion, instead of taking millions of money out of the pockets of the London ratepayers, would, in his opinion, save them from a very heavy loss. As a general principle it was most undesirable that local authorities or governments should undertake great commercial transactions or become great employers of labour, and those who wished them to do so were bound to prove their case. The hon. Member for the Hoxton Division of Shoreditch, and the supporters of these Bills, had not given any sufficient reason for embarking upon this gigantic speculation. ["Hear, hear!"] The House would probably be of opinion that, as a rule, municipalities should not enter into business or commercial transactions, and that it was also undesirable that they should become great employers of labour. The question then arose whether there were any special circumstances which rendered the purchase of the water companies desirable. He thought, on the contrary, there were special reasons which justified them in asking the House to throw out these Bills. He did not oppose them from any jealousy of the London County 459 Council. On the contrary, if purchase was carried out, they must, he thought, have the control, or, at any rate, a preponderating voice. They had, however, already very heavy duties, and no special acquaintance with the subject. Nor was he opposing the Bills in the interests of the water companies; he was not a shareholder in any of them, and he was speaking entirely in the interests of the ratepayers. Other cities might or might not have been wise to acquire their water supply, but every case must be examined on its own basis. Now, in the case of London all the companies, with possibly one exception, were limited to a maximum dividend of 10 per cent., and this was generally obtained, or very nearly so. Moreover, in the Metropolis they were face to face with the necessity of either having to go to a distance for a large additional water supply, or of spending several millions sterling on storage reservoirs in the Thames valley. This was not so much owing to the fact that more water was required, as because the difficulty of maintaining the purity was becoming greater and greater with the continually increasing population in the Thames and Lea valleys. If the municipality did not buy up the water companies, the duty and expense of obtaining the new supply would fall upon the companies. On the other hand, if they were bought up by the London County Council, then the additional burden would fall upon the rates. It was sometimes said that the water companies ought to be bought up, because water was a necessity of life; but so was bread, and so were many other things; and the point was whether their water supply, in the hands of the water companies, was as large and as pure as it was likely to be in the hands of the London County Council. The difficulty of maintaining the purity was very considerable, and very careful filtering was necessary. The present filtering was conducted by the water companies, and was carefully watched by the officials of the London County Council. But if the London County Council became the owner of the water supply, who would there be to watch over that body? ["Hear, hear!"] So far as purity was concerned, therefore, the argument was rather against than in favour of purchase. Passing to the financial aspect of the question, he said those who advocated 460 purchase did so no doubt under the belief that they would get their water cheaper. He did not believe this. He would ask the House, for instance, to consider what would be the effect to the ratepayers of buying up the West Middlesex Company. It was limited to a maximum dividend of 10 per cent.; everything over and above that must go in reduction of the price of water. The company was now paying a 10 per cent. dividend, and had already reduced the price of water to its consumers. If, therefore, the circumstances of the company improved that would not increase the dividends of the shareholders, but would reduce the price charged to the water consumers. On the contrary, if the company were compelled to undergo large expenditure, the burden would fall not upon the ratepayers, but upon the shareholders. If, however, they bought up the West Middlesex Company, then, if the profits increased they would gain nothing more than under the present system; while, on the other hand, they would be in a worse position if there were increased expenses. Moreover, if the companies were bought up the persent ratepayers would not only have to pay for the water, but for the amortisation of the stock. The longest time allowed by Parliament to the London County Council, even in the case of purchase of freehold land, was 60 years, and if the London County Council had to amortise the stock within 60 years, it was evident there would be a heavy additional burden on the present ratepayers. Those who had not gone thoroughly into the question were dazzled by the 10 per cent. dividends paid by the companies; but, of course, the purchase of the West Middlesex and the other companies would have to be on the basis of the present profits, and anyone who looked at the figures would see that those who purchased water companies' stocks and debentures at present prices could only obtain two and three-quarters or three per cent. for their money. It was true that the London County Council could borrow at two and-a-half per cent., but adding on the expenses of management, etc., the price came to about £2 17s. 6d., so that the margin was extremely small. Moreover, there are other objections to the Bills now before the House. In the first place they effected no consolidation, because while, on the one hand, they abolished 461 the eight water companies, on the other hand, they created more than eight water authorities. Moreover, as the mains were now laid with reference to the boundaries of the companies, they would have to be rearranged with reference to the boundaries of the local authorities, which would involve a very heavy expense. ["Hear, hear!"] Then, again, the London County Council had made an arrangement with Surrey, and, he believed, with some of the other counties, in which they gave them the option of purchase for two years after the price was fixed. This, he maintained, was a very one-sided bargain for the people of London, because if the purchase were a good one, the outside areas would take the advantage of it; while if the price paid were too large, the outside areas would throw the whole burden upon the ratepayers of London. He asked the House therefore to throw out these Bills, though he did not say that matters should be allowed to remain as they now were. He suggested, in the first place, a careful inquiry as to the probable financial effects of purchase; secondly, a London Water Commission should be constituted, with powers, mutatis mutandis, similar to those of the Railway Commission. Such a commission would act as a court of appeal between individual consumers and the companies, and would deal with any questions of doubtful or illegal charges, or other complaints, which it was difficult or impossible for an individual to press with effect or success. There was, however, another point which was important to watch in the interests of the ratepayers—namely, that of unnecessary or wasteful expenditure, extravagant salaries or wages. These could not be dealt with by an outside body; therefore, it seemed to be necessary, in the third place, to place on the board of each company representatives of the ratepayers, to watch and protect their interests, as was done in the Indian railway companies and other cases; and fourthly, to limit the right to make back dividends within reasonable limits, as had been done with the gas companies, in which case it was fixed at six years. In this way the question of price did not arise. The companies would be left with their present responsibilities, and all conflict with the outside authorities would be avoided. It had been said that the representatives 462 of the ratepayers might be in a minority on the Board, but the other directors would have no different interests; and if the directors representing the public had any reason to complain, Parliament would no doubt intervene. He firmly believed that the effect of purchase would be substantially to raise their rates for many years to come. It was a gigantic speculation, and one undertaken moreover with very little consideration. On the other hand, under the system of control, which he suggested as an alternative, they would avoid all risk, and at once, or almost at once, secure a reduction of the water rate. [Cheers.]
§ SIR SAMUEL MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)
said that he desired to support the Bill. He wished to correct a statement made by the right hon. Baronet, as to the financial policy he had put forward. The right hon. Gentleman thought that, by doubling the debt of London, they would lower the price or raise the interest. But the right hon. Gentleman had lost sight of the fact that they would not be creating any fresh debt. The people would only part with their shares against Metropolitan Consols or cash to be re-invested; it was a kind of conversion, which would not affect the price of the new security. The trustees who held water stock would take the new stock. The people who could get the money by buying out the companies were the very people who world invest in the stock of the County Council. He believed that, if his constituents were polled, they would be in favour of this monopoly being taken out of the hands of private companies. Their sufferings had been too severe to be readily forgotten. The heat of last summer and the cold of the previous winter alike diminished the water supply, yet the ratepayers had to pay the full water rates for which they were liable. The President of the Local Government Board spoke of the enormous extension of storage which would prevent any deprivation of water; but storage did not affect the winter supply in time of frost. Besides, the residents in the East End of London believed that the mains were not placed at a proper depth to prevent freezing during a severe winter. His constituents also believed that the water from the Lea was not 463 always of the purest quality, or that the quantity was sufficient for the requirements of the increasing population of the district. The important question was whether they were to promptly acquire this monopoly from the companies at a fair price; and secondly, whether the County Council should be the controlling water authority. He maintained that the financial operation must be of advantage to the ratepayers, because in no conceivable circumstance would any arbitrator in the case of an industrial undertaking with varying dividends give compensation, or a price on a basis to yield only 2½ or 2¾ per cent. The arrangement would, therefore, be beneficial to the ratepayer, while there would be a saving, through consolidating the administration of the different companies, in directors' fees and in the salaries of officials; and that seemed to him to be the main argument for amalgamating the companies. They got all these advantages, whatever the controlling power might be. The majority of the County Council was willing to undertake the work, and he maintained that they ought to trust the County Council to make the experiment. If the Council were overweorked let it come to Parliament and have the franchise increased. This would be a better alternative than to leave this monopoly of a necessary of life in the hands of the companies.
§ MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
joined issue with the hon. Member who had suggested that the ratepayers of London should allow a bare majority of the County Council to make an experiment in the management of this great business of water supply. Was the House prepared to do that? What was the County Council? The hon. Member practically admitted that the present body was overworked.
§ MR. WHITMORE
said the hon. Gentleman suggested that the present members were insufficient to carry on the work of the County Council, and he inferred from that that he was in favour of increasing their numbers.
§ SIR S. MONTAGU
had no knowledge whatsoever of the work of the County Council, and in his observations he was 464 only answering arguments which had been put forward.
§ MR. WHITMORE
said that, as one who had some slight knowledge on the subject, he might inform and enlighten the hon. Gentleman on that not unimportant part of what ought to be the knowledge of a London representative. The London County Council was at the present moment undoubtedly overworked. He had never said a word in disrespect of the London County Council as an institution, always wishing it to be entirely independent of politics, but hon. Members on both sides of the House who knew anything of its workings must admit that it was a body saturated with Party spirit. ["Hear, hear!"] Was there any sign that that Party spirit was likely to diminish in the future? Did hon. Members really think that a body so political and partisan could properly and fairly, and in a businesslike way, discharge the great proposed addition of duty which would be entailed by making it responsible for the water supply of London? ["Hear, hear!"] As a proof of the extent to which the Council had become a political body, he pointed to the bye-elections at Haggerston and Whitechapel, where gentlemen had, he said, been selected as candidates on both sides, not because of their connection with the localities, or of any knowledge of municipal affairs, but because of their politics, and who obviously desired to make the County Council a stepping stone to something else. Let him give another illustration. He did not suppose there was another administrative body in England which would, like the County Council did two days ago, have deliberately selected the less worthy of two candidates for the chair.
§ MR. WHITMORE
observed that his object was to point out that the County Council was saturated by Party spirit, and that Members of that House as representing the ratepayers of London would make a great mistake if they added to its functions the great business of managing the water supply of London. For his part he rejoiced that the Government were going to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire 465 into the many questions affecting the management and supply of water in London. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not agree that by so doing they were going to hang up the matter. He believed and hoped that that Commission would make its Report in a reasonable time, say, within the limits of one year, and those of them who were now gladly assenting to the appointment of such Commission did so in the clear hope and on the clear understanding that it would be appointed without delay, its labours conducted with every expedition, and its Report, if possible, presented within the compass of a year. There were real reasons why a new Commission should be appointed, as he conditions had vitally altered since the last Royal Commission sat, and it was also important to know approximately what was likely to be the amount of money which under a policy of purchase they should have to pay. When Lord Cross, in 1880, mentioned a definite sum London unanimously scouted the idea of giving any such sum as that then named for the purchase of the water companies. But that was the only definite sum that ever had been named for their purchase. He had always opposed the policy of purchase in the dark, and had always been anxious that they should not embark on any such policy without further inquiry. He was glad that the Government had taken the course which had been announced by the President of the Local Government Board, which he was sure would have a good result, and which, he hoped, would lead to the adoption of remedies for all the real and practical grievances under which ratepayers and consumers of water in London might now suffer. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
said he was not going to follow the hon. Member for Chelsea by entering upon all the topics in his speech, but must mention that the present candidate for Whitechapel was for three years a member of the London County Council and a Member of this House, and was connected with the constituency he was seeking to represent on the Council. It had been urged during this Debate that the London County Council ought not to be allowed, as the municipal authority, to purchase 466 under these Bills the water undertakings of the metropolis; and one of the arguments used, was their conduct in reference to the East London Water Bill of 1893, in causing its rejection, with the result that the water famine was produced, owing to the reservoirs not having been allowed to be constructed by reason of the rejection of the Bill of 1893. As a matter of fact the works were authorised by the Bill of the next year, and there was but one year's delay. To this day the reservoirs and works were not completed so as to be in operation, three years and upwards after the passing of the Act. But the water famine occurred before three years expired from the year 1893, and, therefore, even if the Bill had passed in 1893, the water famine would have occurred all the same, and it had no relation or connection whatever with the rejection of the Bill of 1893. But these were small matters in comparison with the great question of whether the London County Council was to be allowed, as every other municipality was allowed, to be the purchaser under these Bills of its water undertakings. Whatever might be the views of the President of the Local Government Board, and of the Government at the present time, the President of the Board of Trade, in 1891, then the President of the Local Government Board said, during the discussion of the Water Commission Bill:—The London County Council had had imposed upon it all at once a very difficult task, and no doubt it had made some mistakes; but, nevertheless, he had perfect confidence that the London County Council, if entrusted with the water supply of the Metropolis, would perform its task ably and well, and without a particle of anything approaching jobbery.[Cheers.] Now the Government said that they had not sufficient information, and desired, before allowing these Bills to proceed, to have advice about financial results, and particularly as regarded the outlying areas—and their relations to the central authority. But all this had been fully inquired into and settled by the Select Committee, presided over by the present Home Secretary, which sat in 1891. It was the contention put forward by the local authorities outside the metropolis, during that inquiry, and on the contest of the Purchase Bills promoted by the Council in 1895, that the portion of 467 the works and a sufficient supply outside the metropolis should be handed over to the local authority. In fact, this was the only solution, because the physical conditions of the company's works lent themselves to the working out this conclusion. Five of the water companies drew water from the Thames, and three from other sources; but the system of each company was complete in itself. For instance, in the case of the Chelsea Water undertaking, the Purchase Bill of which undertaking was now under discussion, that undertaking had no outside area, and was not empowered to supply an outside area. Yet, could it be said that that undertaking was not complete. Each of the systems was complete. Each is physically independent of the other, both as regards supply and distribution. No one company does the work of distribution for or on behalf of another company. Each company has its own separate works, its own reservoirs, its own filter beds, its own pumping works—even its own internal system of distribution so as to admit of internal division into complete sectional systems. Each company has its own statutory and different standard of water tax, ranging from 7½ per cent. to 4 per cent. Each has its separate and varying obligations as regards height of supply. Each internal section of each company is as complete as any system supplying any provincial town. There was no difficulty at all in separating them, both as regarded the inside area and the area outside the county. The boundary lines or limits of distribution of each and every one of the companies were fixed without any relation to any supposed settlement of future populations, or to any special fact founded on their retention as water areas for all time. They were areas fixed as matter of accident. The local authorities had taken up that position, and had produced evidence to that effect in the inquiry in 1891, and it was now well established; so much so, that arrangements had been made as regarded the whole of 468 the water area south of the Thames. There was no physical connection as regarded engineering or anything else between the north and the south of the Thames. As regarded the whole of the southern area, which involved half the water questions of London, arrangements had been made, and if the local authorities were satisfied with the partition, it was clear that it could be carried out. If the inquiries and subjects were re-opened the purchase of these corporate undertakings would be postponed for an indefinite period. The subject had been thoroughly investigated, and there was no reason why the Bill before the House, the subject of those investigations, should not be read a Second time and sent to a Committee upstairs, and not postponed until the Royal Commission had satisfied themselves by further inquiry.
§ MR. G. B. HUDSON (Herts, Hitchin)
remarked that there was already a great scarcity of water in Hertfordshire, and the people there regarded with the greatest apprehension the scheme of the London County Council to draw upon their supplies. The county he represented was now drawn upon for water chiefly by the New River Company and the East London Water Company. They, however, only supplied limited areas. The water from the chalk was of exceptional purity, and that was why the London County Council wanted it. The Royal Commission on the London Water Supply reported three years ago that 40 million gallons more daily might be taken from the wells in the Lea Valley. Within 12 months after that Report was published the East London Waterworks Company shut off their mains nightly to save a few million gallons daily, because they said the river Lea had failed to give an adequate supply. In the twenty-fifth Annual Report to the Local Government Board on the London Water Supply for 1895–6 it was stated that 20 million gallons daily had been drawn from the springs and wells in the Lea Valley. But if the London County Council obtained possession, with their professed policy of 469 giving up the Thames and Lea, they would draw 60 million gallons daily from Hertfordshire, and the county would become a desert and uninhabitable. [Laughter.] No company had a right to deprive them of the necessaries of life, or appropriate what did not belong to them, merely to swell their attenuated dividends. The water companies ought not to be allowed to exercise their common law rights as private individuals, but should obtain permission front Parliament each time they wished to sink fresh Wells. They would then know where they Were.[Laughter] At present they did not know where they were—[laughter]—as fresh wells were being sunk in secret on portions of land recently purchased by the companies in the Lea Valley. There was no guarantee in these Bills that more wells would not be sunk by the London County Council. He was grateful to the Government for opposing these Bills, and he hoped they would avert the danger the county of Hertford was in of a diminution of its water supply. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.),
who was met with Ministerial cries of "Divide," said if hon. Members on the Ministerial Benches wrecked their opponents' Bills they would not close their mouths. [Opposition cheers.] The people of London, and especially East London, for a portion of which he was entitled to speak, would learn with bitter disappointment and no little indignation the statement the House had just heard. The President of the Local Government Board minimised the character and importance of the water famine in the East of London, and laid the blame on the London County Council. There had been two water famines in the East of London, One in 1895 and one in 1896. He would admit, for the purposes of argument, that the famine of 1895 was due to the action of the London County Council in opposing the Bill of the East London Company. But this only involved a delay of a year. [Renewed Ministerial cries of "Divide."] Hon. Members below the gangway opposite who interrupted him so rudely had probably been brought down in response to a circular which had been issued by the East London Water Company, who had spared no pains to pack the House in their own interests. [Ministerial 470 cries of "Oh!"] Letters had also been written, based on the circular, to Members from provincial cities, and to the Members from Manchester in particular, urging them to vote against these Bills, in order to deprive London of advantages which Manchester and other large cities enjoyed. [Cheers.] In 1896 the East London Company must have been in precisely the same position it would have been in if the London County Council had not interfered at all. Yet the water famine in East London in 1896 was worse than in 1895. The President of the Local Government Board said the Government had never committed themselves to the policy of purchase. The Colonial Secretary, at all events, committed himself to the general policy of purchase last year, and the only point on which he raised objection was the terms upon which the property of the water companies was to be acquired.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham. W.
That is not accurate. [Ministerial laughter.] I was then, and I am now, in favour of purchase as a principle, but in the case of the East London Company I raised objection to two things—first, to the purchase by the London County Council on different terms from any other representative body in the United Kingdom—["hear, hear!"]—and also to the way in which they proposed to deal with the outside districts. The case of London is exceptional altogether in that respect, and, although I am in favour of purchase as a principle, it may well be that it is impossible to apply the principle to London if you have to take into account outside districts.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
, resuming, said the right hon. Gentleman had borne out the statement he made that he was in favour of the principle of purchase, and the only points on which he differed were the terms upon which the water Companies' property was to be acquired and the way in which the local authorities outside London were to be treated. These were exactly the questions which the Committee upstairs would be called upon to consider and decide. Whatever might be the case with the Government, the majority of London Members among their supporters were committed to the policy of purchase. Lord Onslow, who 471 was acting in concert with hon. Members opposite and was the Leader of the Moderate Party in London, at a meeting in the East of London said control was impracticable; purchase was the only possible plan. Then the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley had written letters in The Times and elsewhere, saying:—I am convinced that it is impossible to devise any scheme of control which is at once effective and equitable.[Ministerial cheers.] At the meeting Lord Onslow attended a resolution was unanimously passed calling on the Government to introduce this Session a Bill for purchase. The Committee of the House last year also pronounced against the policy of control. The President of the Local Government Board said the policy of the Bill was a policy of severance. Certainly the Bill provided means by which the local authorities outside London might obtain control of their own water supply, and in that sense the policy of the Bill was a policy of severance. But so far as the area of the county of London was concerned, it was a policy of unity, and the London County Council, having acquired the property of these companies, would be able to use all the resources of various parts of London for the benefit of the whole. That would give what in the East End in 1895 and 1896 they felt so much the want of, the power to go to other parts of London and make the resources of water there available where it was short. Those who represented the people of London had great reason to complain of the action of the Government. They had retarded this question for years, and he agreed with the Member for Shoreditch that the ultimate result of their action would be to impose an additional burden which would be reckoned by millions of pounds on the ratepayers of London. [Cheers.]
§ MR. LIONEL HOLLAND (Tower Hamlets, Bow and Bromley)
said it was perfectly true that many Members on the Government side were strongly in favour of the policy of purchase in preference to that of control. They stated this at the meeting to which the hon. Member who had just spoken had referred, but they never stated that they were in favour of a method of purchase, which must inevitably increase the 472 burden of the ratepayers of London. He did not object to these Bills because they contained the principle of purchase. With that principle he was in entire agreement. But he objected to the method by which that principle was to be applied. It would deprive the policy of purchase of the benefits and advantages which would otherwise attend it. These Bills did not propose to substitute one company for the existing companies, nor to consolidate their different under-takings, and thus obtain the advantages which might thereby accrue in the direction of economy. The Bill proposed to replace the existing eight authorities by six or seven new authorities, and to split up the present areas of supply, and to deprive the consumers, the ratepayers of London, of all the opportunities of future profits which would result from the natural growth of the population in the outside areas. He believed those future profits would amount in the early part of the coming century to something like half-a-million pounds a year. The policy of the Party opposite and of the London County Council was to buy the rights of service and to constitute the County Council the sole authority for the county of London, and then to introduce a fresh supply altogether from Wales. Not only were the ratepayers deprived of their probable future profits, but they were to purchase on the basis of value and to sell upon the basis of the quantity of water which the outside authorities were at present receiving. That was a basis which might be very detrimental financially to London. There was one other point still more detrimental to London, and that was that the authorities, such as those of Surrey and Essex, were not to be compelled to buy, but were to have an optional purchase of two years, so that if in the meantime the terms on which the London County Council took over the companies proved to be disadvantageous Surrey and Essex could cry off, and leave London to make the best of its bad bargain. It was absurd of hon. Members opposite to pretend that those on that side of the House who were in favour of the policy of purchase in any way resigned their principles because they refused to sanction agreements and Bills of a kind which most probably would result in great detriment to London. By the rejection of 473 these Bills the responsibility of the London County Council would be at an end, and the responsibility of the Government and of the President of the Local Government Board would begin. It was upon the advice of the Government that last year the House rejected the Transfer Bills which were introduced by the London County Council as inconsistent with the policy of the Measure which the Government had then introduced in another place; and they had the assurance of responsible Ministers that the rejection of those Bills would not result in any delay. [Ironical Opposition cheers.] That assurance was given probably, he thought, in the heat of debate, and without very careful consideration; but, at any rate, it had been renewed this year, and in a definite and unqualified form. They had the assurance in Her Majesty's Speech that a Water Bill would be introduced this Session, and by a Water Bill they did not understand such a small measure of control as had been suggested by the President of the Local Government Board—which he did not think would signify much to anyone in London—[ironical Opposition cheers]—but a Bill dealing in a final and complete manner with the whole water question. The policy of that Bill had as yet been enshrouded in mystery, so much so that those who were sceptical might almost doubt whether it had any existence, and that, perhaps, they should never discover. In view of the barren nature of the former assurances, he should like, before they went to a Division, another assurance from the Government. [Opposition cheers.] If it came to a question supporting the Second Reading of these Bills, or resigning themselves to a policy of inaction or one obviously inadequate, however much he might doubt the expediency of many of the provisions of these Bills, nevertheless so injurious would further delay be that, subject to the Instruction to the Committee, which, he understood, the promoters of the Bill might be willing to consent to—["hear, hear!"]—of the two evils he should vote for the Second Reading. [Opposition cheers.] He hoped the Government would be able to say that, as soon as possible after the Report of the Commission, they would not fail to introduce some legislation of a final and complete character on this question. He 474 hoped they would be able to give them such an assurance, not because they had found their assarances to be of very exceptional value—[ironical Opposition cheers]—but what they lacked in quality might, perhaps, be made up in quantity. [Opposition laughter.] He believed that, under the circumstances, the Government had chosen the wisest course, but if such an assurance could not be given, he would prefer not to join in the farce of adding one more Commission to the several Commissions which had already considered this question.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
congratulated the hon. Member on representing East End opinion in regard to this matter. The hon. Member had been the first Member on the opposite side of the House to say that he was in favour of purchase under certain conditions, and the first to mention the word purchase as an alternative to the propositions put forward by the President of the Local Government Board. Moreover, he had transferred responsibility of any prospective drought or water famine in the East End of London from the shoulders of the County Council and hon. Members on that side of the House to the shoulders of the Government in general, and the President of the Local Government Board in particular. He believed at the next election that that view would be endorsed. He appealed to the hon. Member, whose candour was refreshing, to allow a Committee upstairs to determine the conditions of purchase. Such Committees were not generally in favour of confiscation, but had always been rather on the side of generous compensation. How could London go 40 miles for water and not make terms with the intervening authorities? And yet, if they did so, they were told that they had squared them, or make a corrupt bargain; and, if they did not, they were told that they were exclusive and arbitrary. Did the hon. Member for Chelsea think that if these Bills passed, after buying out the shareholders on the terms decided, the members of the London County Council would manage the concerns? They would do what the directors did now; they would take over the expert officers who now supplied the water companies, and he had no doubt those officers would be better pleased to work for the County Council. [Cries of 475 "No!"] If there was any doubt about that a 20 per cent. increase of salaries would remove it. [Laughter.] He knew what technical expert opinion in regard to water was. It could be tested in the committee rooms upstairs. [Laughter.] An expert who gave evidence on one side of a question would, for an increase in his fee, be as eloquent on the other side—[laughter]—and there was very little difference between those gentlemen and the officials of the water companies.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
And who would pay the difference? [Cries of "The ratepayers" and laughter.]
§ MR. BURNS
said the London County Council acquired their money at a little over £2. The hon. Member for Chelsea had urged as an argument against the Bill that the London County Council was too partisan a body. The partisanship of the London County Council was not to be compared with the partisanship of the authorities of some of the provincial towns. He was also glad to say it was decreasing. The fact that the two parties in the Council were working unanimously over the question of the Town Hall showed the spirit that was coming over London, and no one could deny that the House of Commons was more reasonable now than it was three years ago towards the London County Council. But if the partisanship of the London County Council became so marked as to imperil London government and the water supply, the ratepayers would quickly step in and see that the partisanship should not go too far.[Ministerial cries of "Divide!"] He knew it was very difficult to stand between the House of Commons and its dinner hour; but in the interests of the water supply of five millions of people he was prepared to do it. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University had said that purchase could only be accomplished at the cost of doubling the debt of London, and 476 that probably the County Council would have to pay more for their money than they were paying now. The tendency of money, especially in connection with corporation stock, was to cheapen very fast indeed, because people with money to invest had found that speculation in the Argentine, Rhodesia, Italy, and other foreign countries was not so certain as investment in corporation stock; and the difficulty of investors generally was the difficulty of his own trade union, which was prepared to invest £100,000 at 2½ per cent., and was unable to get even that low rate of interest.
§ MR. BURNS
Not if I can help it. [Laughter.] Another point raised by the President of the Local Government Board was that the London County Council was responsible for the water famine of 1895 and 1896 in the East End of London. That was most unfair charge. But, even if the London County Council were responsible for that water famine, what had it to do with the question of the purchase of the water supply of London? That was an immediate question. He believed that if those Bills were not passed, they would not be able to fight a water famine in the future—a water famine not imposed by the niggardliness of nature, but due to the mismanagement of the present supply. Many speeches had been delivered against the Bill, but he thought there was none more curious than that of one of the Members for Hertford (Mr. Hudson). The hon. Gentleman said that if the Bill passed, there was a possibility of the London County Council extracting 60 million gallons of water from Hertford, in stead of 20 or 30 million gallons which the water companies now obtained from that county. But that was not an argument for passing the Bills, for the object of the Bills was to stop the water companies from draining Hertford of its water. It was evident that in 10, 15, or 20 years, after, probably, they had a series of water famines, and outbreaks of cholera, that the water supply of London must be taken out of the hands of monopolists, and they would have to go straight to Wales for a good and proper supply. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board 477 was in any way doubtful as to the feeling of East London on the question, he should consult the hon. Member for West Ham, and the two hon. Members for Hackney, and if the right hon. Gentleman were to take by ballot the votes of all the Members for East London, he ventured to say that the unanimous opinion would be that purchase was inevitable, if not immediate. It had been said that it was not fair or just, that, while the outside area of London was increasing in population, and the inside area was decreasing in population, the inside area should have to bear the cost of those Bills, But, if the London outside areas were increasing in population, the demand for water was increasing for public, sanitary, and personal purposes, and that surely was an argument in favour of the Bill. It had been urged that but a small majority of the County Council were in favour of the policy adopted by the Council in regard to these Bills, but if a majority of three was good enough to throw out a Government in the House of Commons, which controlled the administration of the entire kingdom, surely a majority of from seven to 40, in the London County Council for the last seven years, ought to be sufficient to carry the policy of the Council in regard to the water supply of London. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that a Royal Commission on the subject was wanted. There had been eight Royal Commissions already, as well as Committee after Committee, and certainly another Royal Commission on the subject was not required. The right hon. Gentleman, moreover, stated that this question had become to some extent a political question, and that it was dangerous to give to the County Council the control of so many public services. But in the event of public services. But in the event of public services, either municipal or State, being inefficiently or improperly administered, the way to cure the evil was not to do an injustice to the community, but to place restrictions on that labour, that would keep it in its proper place. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had said that this series of Bills was unprecedented, and that London would not make the profit that had been stated if she had the water supply in her own hands. If the right hon. Gentleman would examine the history of the water supply of this country, he would find that 478 800 local authorities had come to this House for the transfer of water supplies from private hands to public hands, and that, not in a single instance, had it been refused, and not in a single instance had it been given back again. It had been said that if they went to Wales for water, it would cost 40 or 50 millions sterling. He believed it would cost no more than 19 or 20 millions. But whether they went to Wales and spent 40 millions, or continued to derive their water from its present polluted catchment area, was a subject, not for the House, but for the ratepayers of the metropolis to decide. The Royal Commission, if appointed, would only hang up the question for five or seven years. It had already been discussed for five years in the House of Commons, and if the Bills were passed the transfers could not be actually made for 18 months or two years, and if they had a Royal Commission, and a General Election intervening, four or five years was a moderate estimate of the time that would be occupied with the question. The hon. Member for Uxbridge represented a riparian constituency. The hon. Gentleman took a great interest in the affairs of the River Thames. The hon. Gentleman was a representative of a riverside parish, so was he. The County Council wanted these Bills passed, not only for a better, purer, and cheaper water supply for the people of London, but also in the interests of the drainage of the river, and of the commerce of London. The abstraction by the water companies of 135 million gallons of water in July and August of last year—that was, of nearly half the natural flow over Teddington Weir—was killing the boat and pleasure traffic between Hammersmith and Teddington, and it had compelled the Conservancy to erect Richmond Lock Bridge. That lock was erected simply because Richmond, kew, and Kingston would have turned out every Conservative Member if it had not been erected. [Laughter.]
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
We erected the Richmond lock and weir contrary to our own wishes, upon the orders of this House, and the result has been that the scour of the water has been so very much diminished that the navigation has been greatly interfered with.
§ MR. BURNS
said that be was asked by the representatives both of capital and labour to protest against the Thames being starved of its natural flow. The House would be taking on itself a tremendous responsibility by throwing out these Bills. It would not attempt such a course in regard to Manchester or Glasgow. It was simply because the London County Council had incurred unpopularity—[Ministerial cheers]—with vested interests—[Opposition cheers]—and with rich monopolists—[Opposition cheers]—an unpopularity that endeared it to the hearts of the disinterested and poorer citizens. Some day when, through the lack of County Council water supply, the West End of London was threatened with disease, and the convenience of the rich was jeopardised, the House of Commons would do for the London water supply what it had already done for its drainage 30 or 40 years ago. [Cheers and ironical cheers.] When another election came, and this question was raised, all the battalions of directors whom he saw opposite, all the monopolists who had not behaved as well as they might have done, would be relegated to the obscurity which they deserved. [Ironical cheers.] The water companies, as Punch had depicted them, had preferred the grasping of big dividends to the health and safety of the people of London; and when their day of reckoning came, let them not blame the County Council, but rather the President of the Local Government Board, who, instead of standing up for the best traditions of his Department, had preferred monopolist interests to the health and cleanliness of the people of London. [Cheers and ironical cheers.]
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. HARRY MARKS (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said that he had no complaint to make of the Government's severe criticisms of the County Council 480 Bills, but he did complain of the inadequate and unsatisfactory alternative offered to them by the Government. For many months there had been in the East End a firm belief that the Government did mean to do something comprehensive and effective in respect of the London water supply. What it now promised fell very far short of what people had been encouraged to expect. The Queen's Speech spoke of "a Bill to improve the arrangements for the water supply of the metropolis;" surely that was not the Bill of which the President of the Local Government Board had given an outline. Was the promise of a Royal Commission a fulfilment of the pledge given by the First Lord of the Treasury in August to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley? The right hon. Gentleman then said:—I have to say that the Government are deeply sensible of the importance of the question to London generally, and to the East End in particular; and we strongly feel that the next Session ought not to pass without a solution of the question being arrived at.There had been various descriptions of Royal Commissions, but whatever else a Royal Commission might be, it was not a solution of the London water question. On the strength of that declaration and of the promise contained in Her Majesty's Speech, and of the utterances of the trusted Members of the Government on public platforms, the Unionist Members representing East London constituencies had pledged themselves that this Government did mean to deal effectively with the water question. They had pledged not only their own faith, but they had been foolish enough to pledge the faith of their leaders.This meeting calls upon Her Majesty's Government, during the next Session of Parliament, to constitute an authority for the water supply representing the interests of the consumers, with powers of control and purchase.That was a resolution which was put at a meeting at which every Unionist Member for East London was present—a meeting called under the auspices of the London Municipal Society, to which the Moderate Party owed most of its successes on the County Council for the last two years. Similar resolutions had been passed in every East London constituency, and similar resolutions were 481 being passed that day in view of the Whitechapel bye-election. With so many promises, it was not unreasonable to look for more performance. But what was the position in which the Government left those who favoured purchase of the water companies? They must either vote for the Royal Commission, which was to inquire into a matter which had been inquired into for the past 30 years; or they must vote for these deplorably bad Bills of the London County Council, impracticable and unworkable from the beginning to the end. It was difficult to know which was the worse outlook. They were disappointed in the expectation they had formed that the Government would have given them a reasonable alternative to these impossible Bills. The outside areas were bribed by unfair treatment to withdraw their opposition to the County Council Scheme. Lord James of Hereford's proposed water trust of last Session quite unnecessarily gave a majority of Members to the County Council, and these outside areas, rather than be under the government of the County Council, knowing, as they did, how it used its power, had bought their release or had agreed to buy it whenever the time might come. The Government, with a full knowledge of the situation, left those Unionist Members who represented London constituencies, and who were pledged to water purchase, no alternative but either to support these Bills or to hang up this question indefinitely. That was a position which only needed to be stated to show in what a deplorable plight such a policy as this must land those who had foolishly, perhaps from inexperience, perhaps from excessive zeal, but certainly in good faith, placed, or misplaced, their confidence in the promises of the Government.
§ COLONEL HUGHES
said that, as a London Member, he was in favour of purchase, but the Bills of the County Council were to purchase first, and then to sell nearly the whole of the water supply to other people. There should be one local authority for the entire area, and they would see how important that would become by-and-bye when they wanted a new supply. One authority would not only manage the present water supply, but arrange for a new one. Seven-eighths of the London Members sat on that side of the House, and 482 their opinion was against these Bills, and he thought that, as they had been elected since the County Council was elected, and on a larger poll, they could claim to represent a greater portion of the ratepayers and a greater feeling of the ratepayers on financial question, than the County Council.
§ Question put. The House divided:—Ayes, 123; Noes 258.—(Division List, No. 92.)
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Second Reading put off for six months.