HC Deb 13 May 1897 vol 49 cc353-60

rose to move:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the East London Water Bill that they have power to insert a clause providing that the term 'the annual rateable value of the tenement supplied with water' shall have the same meaning in the districts outside the metropolis supplied by the company as the term now has within the metropolitan area. He said he was asking permission to place before the Committee now sitting a question that concerned a large number of persons resident beyond the boundaries of the metropolis. The charges for the supply of water were levied on the annual value of the tenement supplied with water, and those words formed the basis of all water charges levied within the metropolitan area and in the large area outside the metropolis supplied by the companies which also supplied the central area. The words were found in the Act of 1847, and for 41 years they were acted upon by the various companies, including the East London Companies, with more or less friction between the companies and the consumers. The frictions grew so great that in 1885 an Act was passed defining these words in the sense of the value set upon the tenement by the local assessing authority, but the Act applied only to the metropolis. Under that Act, the East London Company, in common with the other water companies, levied their charges on the annual value as defined by the Local Authority, but, as the Act was strictly limited to the metropolitan area, one set of charges for the supply of water by the East London Water Company obtained within the metropolitan area, and a totally different set of charges was made on the consumers supplied by the same company in the extra-metropolitan area. They had two tenements in the same street rated at exactly the same amount, but persons living on one side of the street, outside the metropolitan area, paid more for the supply of water than those living on the other side of the street, which was within the metropolitan area. He could not conceive any justification for the continuance of such an anomaly which was, in his opinion, a great injustice on the people residing in the populous extra-metropolitan areas. he asked, by his Instruction, that the Committee now sitting should have power to inquire into the circumstances, to hear evidence, and to decide whether or not this grievance should continue or whether it should be remedied by the incorporation of a clause in the Bill now under their consideration. The question was not now brought forward for the first time. In 1886, a Committee was sitting on the East London Bills and the then Chairman of the Committee, Lord Claud Hamilton, pointed out, on the 13th April, that— The Committee are of opinion that a new clause will be wanted. In the opinion of the Committee it is very desirable that West Ham should he included for water purposes within the metropolitan area and should be subject to the same advantages both as regards continuous supply and the mode of rating as applies to the rest of the East London Company's District subject to the provisions of the Metropolitan Water Act 1871. No doubt the representative of West Ham will frame a, clause carrying out the views of the Committee. Some technical difficulties arose. It was pleaded on behalf of the companies, that the petitioners had not included this point in their petition, and on that point, and the further contention that there was not at that time a similar method of assessment adopted in the extra-metropolitan area as prevailed in the metropolitan district, the Committee finally decided against the extra-metropolitan areas. He was informed by those who ought to know that the second objection no longer holds good, inasmuch as the system of assessment had been revised in the extra-metropolitan areas and was now practically, on the same footing as the system within the metropolis. If that were the case, one objection had now disappeared, and the second objection, the mere technical objection, could not now be maintained. He did not want the House to constitute itself judge and jury in this technical question. It was a question which necessarily involved the presence of experts who would place before the Committee the evidence both for and against the proposal. He was not asking the House to pronounce an opinion on the question, but simply asking that the Committee should be given power to go into the question and to hear and determine the case on its merits. If the evidence satisfied the Committee that the existing condition of things rendered such a clause undesirable, they would reject it; but it was perfectly possible that the Committee would come to the same conclusion as the Committee over which Lord Claud Hamilton presided. He could not understand why there should be any objection to the proposal, seeing that the Instruction was only permissive. Certain of the extra-metropolitan areas had petitioned to have the clause inserted and they were alive to the possibility of their petition being rejected on the ground that the Committee had no power to deal with the question. He sought to remove that technical objection. He was told that the Bill was simply one asking for more storage, to enable the Company to discharge its statutory obligations to consumers within the area. To a certain extent that was true, but it was not the whole truth. The water company were asking for another half-a-million of money to provide storage, and consumers would reap a certain amount of advantage; but no one would convince him that the directors, in view of their obligations to their shareholders, were going to undertake this enormous work as a pure matter of charity to the consumers. The merest child must know that unless there were some profit to be derived, the company would not be likely to undertake the work. He had no wish to contest that point. All he wanted was that the Company should deal equitably as between ratepayer and ratepayer, no matter where they happened to reside. It was an injustice which ought no longer to continue, that people in London who happened to be separated by a street should be paying higher charges for water on one side of the street than on the other. He might be told that he was supporting a principle of robbery. He had no sympathy with any project that would deprive the water company of what they might legitimately claim; but he saw no injustice in enacting that the rates which prevailed in the metropolitan area should prevail in the other districts. He was told that the thing was an impossibility; that the same system of assessment could not be maintained in the extra-metropolitan area; that there were certain safeguards within the metropolitan area which did not exist without. That, however, was a purely technical point which ought not to be argued in the House, but should be left to the Committee upstairs. He had no interest to serve in the matter excepting that which he conceived to be for the benefit of his constituents. He was speaking for more than a quarter of a million of people who were paying rates to this company, which they considered to be abnormally high. It was not a question to which the stigma of robbery and misappropriation should be applied. His desire was to see common justice done as between the company and their consumers. He might be told that this was piecemeal legislation; that it dealt with one company instead of with the whole area. If he could have the whole of the water companies within his purview at that moment he would endeavour to apply the Instruction to the whole of them. But there was no reason why the consumers within the area of the East London Company should be excluded from the proposed benefit because it was not possible at the same moment to include other areas. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Instruction.


, said that the hon. Member for West Ham had remarked that the terms misappropriation and robbery would probably be applied to his Instruction. He had several times argued the case of the East London Company, but he had never taken that line, or bandied such terms. The case of the company was that they wanted the increased storage to enable them to avoid the danger of drought. The hon. Member had also suggested that the company were asking for these powers with a view to making profit, that this was their only and their first idea. He said distinctly that profit was not their first idea, their first idea was to prevent their running short of water, and the hon. Member for West Ham had no right to impute to the company motives that were not actuating them. The hon. Member was simply endeavouring to extend Torrens' Act to the extra-metropolitan areas without those very cheeks that were provided by the House in order to ensure fair treatment for the water company within the area. The overseers of outside localities were interested in keeping down the assessment, because the contribution of the locality was based on its aggregate rateable value. The company would have no objection to the same charge being imposed on the extra-metropolitan districts if there were the same checks as to valuation. But even if the hon. Member's hypothetical street were included, there would still be a street beyond that. There must be a boundary somewhere. The hon. Member had called attention to a decision of a previous Committee which had claimed to be in his favour. But the decision of the Committee on the 13th April 1876, was given before the facts were fully placed before the Committee. When they had heard the evidence, Lord Claud Hamilton's Committee decided in the following terms:— We do not insist on any change in the mode of rating, and only agree to a constant supply being compulsory on there being inserted the same conditions as are attached to other portions of the metropolis. Another Committee in 1894, when the hon. Member for West Ham brought forward a similar proposal, decided as follows: — The Committee have come to the conclusion not to go any farther with the West Ham Clause. The same question came before a Committee of the House of Lords, and they decided that it would not be safe to interfere with or alter the law as it stood, and they declined to entertain the proposal. If the House of Commons wished to alter the law it ought not to do so by a roundabout method, but ought to deal with all companies that had extra-metropolitan areas, in the same way and in a public Act. It was unfair, after the company had made every effort to meet the objections of hon. Members opposite, that Instructions like this should be sprung upon them at the last moment.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

thought it curious that on the one hand the Government should think it right to relieve districts like West Ham from rates—and that they did think it right was proved by the introduction of the Poor Board Schools Bill— and that on the other hand they should allow the water companies to impose heavier rates upon those districts because they were just outside the London boundary line. The districts to which he referred were far more thickly populated than some of the districts inside the metropolitan area. That wits true of West Ham, Walthamstow, and Leyton. The Essex population was quite willing to agree to any checks which the company now had against the people of London. In fact they wanted to be treated in the same way. The assessment was not kept down a bit more in Essex than in London. The Essex County Council took great care that the assessments should not be kept down, and they had gone up enormously in recent years. It was said that the company would not profit by this Bill. That might be true; but the company did profit from the increased consumption in consequence of the growth of the population in the extra-metropolitan area. That population was now being treated worse than the people of London, to whom the company gave the advantage of a preferential rate. He trusted that the House would pass the Instruction.

MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

pointed out that within the metropolitan area there was an authority which laid down the proper way in which to ascertain rateable value, but that outside the Metropolis there was no such authority. The hon. Member for West Ham said that the rateable value was fixed in his constituency as it was in the metropolitan area. There was, however, nothing to prevent the local authorities of West Ham from making a change at any moment, for the powers of such local authorities were unlimited in regard to rates. Upon a house rated at £50 a year they could raise 1s. in the pound if they wanted £2 10s.; but if the assessable annual value were reduced to £25, they could still raise the same amount by increasing the rate to 2s. The water companies, however, could not do the same thing. When a water company came to the House, as in the present instance, and asked for certain powers in order to enable them to benefit the public, it was, to say the least of it, discouraging that Instructions of this nature should be proposed. On a previous occasion the East London Water Company had applied to that House to sanction the steps that were necessary in order that additional reservoirs might be established. The application was resisted on the ground that if it was assented to the profits of the shareholders of the company would be increased. But what had, in fact, occurred? The dividends had been reduced since then by 1 per cent. He asserted that the company had not brought this Measure forward with the object of increasing the shareholders' profits, but in order to guard the consumers against the risk of future drought.


said that he understood that the view of the company was that this was a Bill to supplement one which was introduced and sanctioned last year. That Bill gave greater storage power to the East London Water Company in order to obviate the risk of a recurrence of the water famine. In order to enable the company to carry the Bill of last year into effect this Measure was said to be necessary. An Instruction was now moved which the company alleged might be extremely injurious to them, and his hon. Friend asked that the Committee upstairs should be empowered to consider and discuss the question which was involved in that Instruction. But he apprehended that that was within their powers at the present time. The advocates of the Instruction were, it appeared to him, in this dilemma—if the matter could be discussed by the Committee what was the object of this Instruction? If, on the other hand, it could not be discussed, the supporters of the Instruction were calling upon a Committee to examine into questions which were outside the purview of the Bill. He did not think that adequate reason had been shown for adopting the course proposed. The matter, if dealt with at all, ought to be dealt with in relation to all the water companies, and a public Bill ought to be introduced for the purpose. In the circumstances he did not think that the House would be well advised in passing the Instruction.


said that he realised that it would be perfectly futile to press the Motion to a Division in the face of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He would therefore ask leave to withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.