HC Deb 09 May 1904 vol 134 cc833-44


Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said he rose for the purpose of moving the rejection of the Bill. He had no personal concern in the matter one way or the other, his action being simply prompted by what he conceived to be the interests of the district. The Bill was opposed by the Holywell District Council, the inhabitants of Holywell, and also by riparian owners of the land and other persons interested in local industries. If passed it would seriously affect the water supply of Holywell, a growing town of 3,000 inhabitants, and the local industries. Any interference with the water supply of such a town must have a v ry serious effect on its prosperity. It had been suggested that this Bill had been passed by a Committee of the House of Lords, and that therefore this House ought not to oppose it, but, after all, the House of Lords was not always perfect in its judgment, and it was quite possible that in the case of this Bill, as in other matters, the House of Lords had made a mistake. This Bill was promote by a private company. Some time ago the persons interested in the promotion of this Bill carried out a scheme of mine drainage for the purpose of discovering lead; the scheme was not a success and the object of this Bill was to interest the public in the scheme of working lead mines if they were found to exist, which at present was not the case. His contention was that no one for the purpose of developing lead mines had a right to injure local industries or the water supply of a rising town like Holywell. Under the first scheme no damage had been done, but under this Bill the promoters proposed to extend the present drainage scheme, and by driving tunnels in all directions to tap the limestone area from which the water supply of Holywell was drawn. The scheme was a pure speculation which might or might not result in the discovery of lead, but however it might be they were certain to find water, the draining of which would not only deplete the water supply of Holywell but also seriously affect the source of the Holywell stream, upon which a great many local industries depended. A well-known illustration of what would occur was the Severn Tunnel, which tapped the limestone area, with the result that it drained all the surrounding country within an area of twenty-four miles. This scheme proposed to drain to a depth of 200 feet and within 300 feet of the main source of the Holywell water supply. Anybody acquainted with geology would realise the risks which were run in going so near a limestone area. The hon. Member quoted the evidence given before the House of Lords Committee by geological experts to the effect that, this scheme if carried out must lower the level of the water in the Holywell stream and might do so to such an extent as to dry up the spring at St. Winifred's Well altogether.

He asserted that it would affect injuriously seven or eight mills which were dependent on the stream for their power, and that without these mills, which employed large numbers of men living in Holywell to whom many thousands of pounds were paid in wages, Holywell could hardly exist. The effect of this scheme would be even more far-reaching having regard to the fact that one of these mills, which was engaged in chemically treating seaweed, over and above the people it employed in the neighbourhood, employed some 200 people on the coast of Donegal for the collection of the seaweed treated, and that industry might be closed altogether owing to the depletion of the water in Holywell Stream. The hon. Member, in support of his Resolution, drew attention to the fact that in 1885 there was a suggestion to tap the water in St. Winifred's Well for the purpose, not of a private speculation, but of obtaining a water supply for a town, and the result of a local inquiry into the matter had been that the Provisional Order sanctioned by the Local Government Board was cancelled and that scheme was not permitted to proceed. The House was now asked to agree to a proceeding which the Local Government Board had vetoed in 1885. There was every justification for asking the House to reject this Bill, especially having regard to the fact that there was no provision for compensating any industry that might be injured and no provision that any injury done to mill owners or others would be made good.

The House would find precedents for the course he now asked them to take in the case of the Croydon Corporation, which proposed to sink two wells, one at Addington and one at Beddington, to provide a water supply for Croydon, but who were not allowed to do so because the sinking of the well at Beddington would, it was proved, deplete the water of the Wandle and inflict incalculable injury; in the case of the Nottingham Corporation, in which case the opposition of the town of Newark was successful on the ground that if the Nottingham Corporation sank the three wells proposed it would rob Newark of its water supply; and in the case of the Wolverhampton Corporation, whose Bill was thrown out on Second Reading on the ground that the action they proposed to take would injure the water supply of the surrounding districts. He pointed out that in all these cases the Bills were promoted by public corporations for a public purpose ye they were not successful. He therefore submitted that this was a Bill that ought not to be allowed a Second Reading, and he moved that it be read a second time this day six months.

SIR CHARLES McLAREN (Leicestershire, Bosworth)

said he supported the Motion of his hon. friend, and, like him, he had no personal interest in the matter. He thought this was one of those Bills which ought to be dealt with by the House on some grounds of definite principle. It was a Bill of an extraordinary character, and unless the House was prepared to lay down some rule to deal with those who wished to suck all the water from the land, large towns would be at the mercy of Promoters of bills whose only object was speculation. This Bill was promoted by a great many landowners, who had, however, limited their liability to a very small amount, and if the Bill were allowed to pass the inhabitants of Holywell would be ruined without any hope of reparation. His hon. friend had stated so fully the specific grounds upon which injury was feared by the inhabitants of Holywell that it was un-necessary to emphasise them. He would, therefore, deal with one point to which his hon. friend had not alluded. St. Winifred's Well was believed by Roman Catholics to have miraculous powers; it was the only well in this country to which pilgrims resorted for the cure of their ailments. Upon this point he had made some inquiries, and had discovered that some 15,000 persons came down every year to bathe in St. Winifred's Well and be cured. From this source the town of Holywell derived a very large amount of revenue, and it was perfectly clear if the water was diverted and the spring dried up it would result in a great loss to the town. One peculiarity of this Bill was that although it proposed to extract the water from the district, the promoters had made no provision of any sort for compensating reservoirs. The peculiarity of this water was that it did not flow on the surface of the ground as was usual in the district, but went down fissures in the limestone strata, and at a certain level the water rose up again in great volumes. It was quite obvious that if tunnels were driven down below the existing stream the subterranean reserves would be drained to such an extent as to make the water flow not in its accustomed channel. If tunnels were driven 200 feet below St. Winifred's Well that might have the effect of drying it up. It had been a law for sixty years that water might be abstracted from underground channels to any extent without paying compensation to neighbours. That was a very hard law in many instances and would be so in this case. The promoters of the Bill were unable to take advantage of the law without coming to this House to get compulsory powers, and he submitted that the House should put upon the promoters the most stringent terms that capital should be found, not only to complete the works, but to provide compensation to the interests of the riparian owners and local industries in the district which might be injured by the abstraction of the water. He believed that if power was given to take the underground water without compensation the town of Holywell would be ruined.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now.' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Sir Thomas Esmonde.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. YERBURGH (Chester)

said that the particular area which the Bill proposed to deal with in the county of Flint was acknowledged by all experts to be very rich in minerals, and the Bill was promoted on the ground that it might be the means of the development of very valuable industries. He had received a telegram from the town clerk of the borough of Flint, which stated that that evening the town council had adopted a resolution unanimously approving the scheme before the House, on the ground that it would be of great advantage to the district. Some years ago a very valuable mining industry existed there. Many men were employed, a great amount of money was paid in wages, and the district was prosperous. The mines were flooded and the industry could not be carried on for the time. An attempt was made to take the water out of the mines by pumping, but the expense was found to be so great that it was abandoned. In 1875 a company was formed for the purpose of draining the mines on similar principles to those proposed in the Bill for the Milwr district. The same objections were raised against the Bill promoted by that company and the same arguments used as against the present Bill. In spite of the opposition, however, the Act was passed, and none of the prophecies regarding it were fulfilled. The Well of St. Winifred, which was so deservedly esteemed by Roman Catholics, still poured out its waters for the benefit of the pilgrims who visited it, in undiminished volume. He understood that Holywell, which opposed the Bill, did not get the whole of its water supply from this well, but from other wells, and he was informed that the Local Government Board were pressing Holywell to obtain a further supply elsewhere. All the questions raided by the hon. Gentleman in opposite were entirely questions for the Committee upstairs. He hid studied the case very carefully, and he could see nothing whatever which would weigh in his mind against the scheme proposed in the Bill. The Bill had already been before the House of Lords, who had made exhaustive inquiry, and had met all the objections to it which had been put forward that night. He was prepared to give his hearty support to the Bill.

MR. MOSS (Denbighshire, E.)

said he wished to support the Second Reading of the Bill, the objections to which were merely fantastical. It was said that the scheme of the Bill would interfere with the water flowing to St. Winifred's Well, but up to the year 1874 mines were in existence in the neighbourhood of the well, and were worked at a level below the well, yet the flow of water to St. Winifred's remained unaffected. The House was not now competent to examine the details of the Bill. That duty should be left to a Committee.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

said he had had experience of the objections which might be taken to an interference with an underground supply of water. He held that when there was a conflict of opinion, and a possibility of those who were benefitting by the existing over-ground flow of water being damaged by the diminution of that flow, it was necessary that the promoters of the drainage scheme should give satisfaction that there would be full compensation if any damage resulted Although he was not prepared to go the length of voting against the Second Reading, he reserved to himself full power to oppose it at a subsequent stage, unless the supporters of the Bill would say that in the event of damage happening to the neighbourhood by the abstraction of the underground flow of water, that would be compensated for.


said that if he thought that the effect of the Bill would be to damage the flow of water to St. Winifred's Well or Holywell, he would vote against it and invite the House to do the same. But he had no evidence before him to that effect. His hon. and gallant friend had referred to the question of compensation, but he took it that it would be really impossible to estimate any money compensation to pilgrims and others who might be deprived of the benefit they had derived from the well. It was impossible to measure the many advantages which might be gained, and what he was going to suggest was that a Committee—supposing that the House sent the Bill to a Committee—might easily insert a clause in the Bill to provide compensation water, if the evidence justified them in so doing, and to require that the promoters of the Bill should undertake that so many thousand gallons of water every day, should flow in a particular channel. If some such clause as that were inserted then neither the pilgrims or the mill owners would be in any way injured, but unless they sent the Bill to a Committee it would be impossible to insert any such clause. Seeing that this was really an engineering question, he suggested that the Bill should be read a second time and sent to a Committee upstairs. He thought the House might take it that primâ facie the promoters had made out a good case in favour of their Bill, because it had gone through a Committee in another place.

MR. MCKEAN (Monaghan, S.)

said the Chairman of Committees had told the House that there was no evidence that the proposed scheme would interfere with the flow of water. He thought anyone who was anxious to get evidence on the subject had abundance of it already available. The hon. Member for Chester had stated that the same arguments which were used against this scheme were used years ago against a similar scheme for the drainage of mines in the district, and that the prophecies then indulged in had not been realised. He himself held that every argument used against the former Bill had been absolutely verified by the fact. There was now a diminished flow of water, so that the hon. Member's argument had no foundation in fact at all. The urban district council of Holywell, and the inhabitants of Holywell, had petitioned against this Bill, and the fact that they had done so indicated that they believed they would be damnified by the proposed scheme. The suggestion of the Chairman of Committees that the Bill should be sent to a Committee reminded him of the invitation, "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly." The district council and the inhabitants of the place knew the merits and demerits of the proposal, and he thought the House would be well advised in going by the opinion of the local people. The fact that the Bill had gone through a Committee of the House of Lords was to him rather an argument against than in favour of it. He would quote to the House the opinion of an undoubted expert, Mr. Joseph Haynes, mining engineer, said that, in his opinion, it was impossible for any of the proposed tunnels to be constructed without artificially lowering, or entirely taking away, the present supply of water used and enjoyed by the inhabitants within the drainage area. He submitted that on purely archæological grounds the scheme ought not to be sanctioned, but St. Winifred's Well had a higher claim to their protection than could be found in archæological reasons. It was a great sanatorium to which people suffering from diseases which had baffled medical science went and were completely cured. The House should not permit this act of twentieth century vandalism.

MR. J. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

stated that a tunnel constructed some four miles from St. Winifred's Well had reduced the flow of water from between six and eight million gallons to about four million gallons a day, and asked what results were likely to follow from the driving of five tunnels, the nearest of which was to approach within one mile of the well itself. He had read with considerable care the evidence given before the Lords Committee, and he had tried to form a perfectly impartial judgment upon it. He was afraid that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman in this particular instance as to providing compensation water was impracticable. If the Bill could be carried without any possibility of doing harm to St. Winifred's Well, and if the industries on the stream and the interests of the people employed there could be safeguarded, he should not have the slightest hesitation in voting for the Bill. He frankly admitted that the scheme would increase the amount of employment. The question to be considered was, were these benefits to be obtained by sacrificing those interests which have been in existence for 100 years? They depended on a cheap water supply, but for that they would have ceased to exist long ago. They had a right to some consideration at the hands of the House, and he hoped that in trying to do good to one part of the district they would not do harm to another. His position in the matter was one of extreme difficulty. He had been for nineteen year associated with works on the stream, and that being so, he would not vote one way or another.


said the merits and demerits of the Bill could only be decided in the usual way, by formal and responsible evidence given before a Committee. Those opposed to the Bill asked the House to cut short at this stage of its career a measure ostensibly for the development of a new district, and the employment in new

industries of a large number of people. He submitted that the House should not accept that responsibility without formal inquiry for which the machinery of a Committee-room gave ample opportunity. There the promoters and objectors could meet face to face and state their views by means of sworn evidence, and a Committee hearing statements of such an intricate and technical character in this way must surely be a more competent and judicial tribunal than that House could possibly be, depending as it must do on what might be, after all, but loose and irresponsible statements made in the course of a Second Heading debate. He himself could not come to a decision on a matter of this kind without formal and fuller inquiry. He therefore hoped that the Bill would be sent to a Committee.

* MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)

said the flow of the water in this stream had suddenly reverted to what it was formerly. That was in consequence of the wet year. There had been a deficiency of rainfall during the past twenty years, and springs and wells all over the country had been abnormally low. This year for the first time they had resumed their ordinary flow. What had happened in the district referred to was exactly what he should have expected as the result of the dry years and could not be attributed to the action of the Halkin drainage as stated by the hon. Member for Flint Boroughs.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 159; Noes, 61. (Division List No. 116.)

Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex, F. Burns, John Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan)
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Burt, Thomas Dewar, Sir T. R.(TowerHamlets
Allen, Charles P. Butcher, John George Dickson, Charles Scott
Arkwright, John Stanhope Caldwell. James Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.
Ashton, Thomas Gair Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbyshire Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers
Bain, Colonel James Robert Cawley, Frederick Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)
Balcarres, Lord Chapman, Edward Duke, Henry Edward
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Duncan, J. Hastings
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Compton, Lord Alwyne Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart
Bell, Richard Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Ellice, Capt E. C (S Andrw's Bghs
Blundell, Colonel Henry Cremer, William Randal Ellis, John Edward (Notts.)
Bond, Edward Cripps, Charles Alfred Emmott, Alfred
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Eve, Harry Trelawney
Brown, George M. (Edinburgh) Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward
Brymer, William Ernest Dalkeith, Earl of Fenwick, Charles
Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith) Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall) Slack, John Bamford
Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r Layland-Barratt, Francis Smith, H C(North'mb. Tyneside
Fisher, William Hayes Leese, Sir Jos. F. (Accrington) Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.
Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond Levy, Maurice Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Flower, Sir Ernest Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Bristol, S.) Spear, John Ward
Forster, Henry William Lowther, Rt. Hn. J. W(Cum. Penr. Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R (Northants
Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lyell, Charles Henry Stewart. Sir Mark J. M'Taggart
Freeman-Thomas, Captain F. Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred Stone, Sir Benjamin
Fuller, J. M. F. MacIver, David (Liverpool) Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ
Fyler, John Arthur M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)
Gardner, Ernest Markham, Arthur Basil Thomas, Sir A. (Glamorgan, E.)
Goddard, Daniel Ford Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow) Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-(Linc.) Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Tomkinson, James
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Norman, Henry Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.
Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Nussey, Thomas Willans Toulmin, George
Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury) Paulton, James Mellor Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Gretton, John Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden) Tritton, Charles Ernest
Griffith, Ellis J. Peel, Hn. Wm. Robert Wellesley Tuff, Charles
Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Valentia, Viscount
Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Rea, Russell Walker, Col. William Hall
Hamilton, Marq of(L'nd'nderry Reid, James (Greenock) Wason, Jn. Cathcart (Orkney)
Harwood, George Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd
Hatch, Ernest Frederick Geo. Remnant, James Farquharson White, George (Norfolk)
Helme, Norval Watson Rickett, J. Compton White, Luke (York, E. R.)
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion) Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)
Hobhouse, Rt. Hn. H (Somers't, E Rolleston, Sir John F. L. Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Hornby, Sir William Henry Rose, Charles Day Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Horniman, Frederick John Round, Rt. Hon. James Wilson, Fred. W.(Norfolk, Mid.
Houston, Robert Paterson Runciman, Walter Wilson, Henry J.(York, W. R.)
Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Russell, T. W. Wilson, John (Glasgow)
Jeffreys, Rt. Hn. Arthur Fred. Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool) Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Johnson, John (Gateshead) Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford Woodhouse, Sir J. T (Huddersf'd
Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Sandys, Lt.-Col. Thos. Myles Worsley-Taylor, Henry Wilson
Jones, William (Carnarvonshire Seely, Charles Hilton (Lincoln) Wrightson, Sir Thomas
Kemp, Lieut.-Colonel George Shackleton, David James Wylie, Alexander
Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H. Sharpe, William Edward T. Voxall, James Henry
Keswick, William Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)
Langley, Batty Shipman, Dr. John G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Yerburgh and Mr. Moss.
Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool) Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W
Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H. Holland, Sir William Henry O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Hope, J. F. (Sheffield, Brightside O'Dowd, John
Boland, John Hunt, Rowland O'Halley, William
Brigg, John Joicey, Sir James O'Shaughnessy, P. J.
Burke, E. Haviland Jordan, Jeremiah Power, Patrick Joseph
Campbell, John (Armagh, S.) Joyce, Michael Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Law, Hugh Alex, (Donegal, W. Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Condon, Thomas Joseph Lough, Thomas Roche, John
Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark) Lundon, W. Sheehan, Daniel Daniel
Crean, Eugene MacVeagh, Jeremiah Sheehy, David
Cullinan, J. M'Hugh, Patrick A. Strachey, Sir Edward
Dalziel, James Henry M'Kean, John Sullivan, Donal
Delany, William M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North) Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Devlin, Chas. Ramsay (Galway Mooney, John J. Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.) Murphy, John Thomas, D. Alfred (Merthyr)
Donelan, Captain A. Nannetti, Joseph P. Waldron, Laurence Ambrose
Doogan, P. C. Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South) Young, Samuel
Flynn, James Christopher O'Brien, James E. X. (Cork)
Foster. P. S. (Warwick, S. W.) O'Brien, K. (Tipperary, Mid.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir Thomas Esmonde and Sir Charles M'Laren.
Hammond, John O'Brien, Patrick (Kelkenny)
Hayden, John Patrick O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)

Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn "—(Sir A. Acland-Hood)—put, and agreed to.