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Metropolitan Water Supply Bill

Volume 117: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1851

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moved that the Standing Orders be dispensed with in the case of the Metropolitan Water Supply (Control of Representative Body) Bill. He did not mean to dispute the grounds upon which the Committee had ruled that the Standing Orders applicable to Private Bills had not been complied with in this case, or to impugn the good faith with which they had decided that they should not be dispensed with on the present occasion; but he contended that the present measure did not come within the ordinary and common-sense acceptation of the term "Private Bill" at all. It was an exceptional and hybrid kind of measure, to which the House could never have intended the Standing Orders to apply; in point of fact, the House had been in the habit of dispensing with the Standing Orders in all similar instances for many years past. Moreover, even if it could have been legitimately shown that this was a Private Bill, it was utterly impossible that the Standing Orders could have been rigidly and technically carried out in regard to it: the promoters of the Bill had done all that was possible in the circumstances of the case to comply with them. In the month of November the company gave the usual preliminary notices, such as were advised by the most eminent Parliamentary agents as best adapted to meet the exigency of the case. But at that time, the Government not having brought in their Bill so early as had been expected, the promoters of this measure took pains to modify and improve its character. The result was, that the Examiner reported that the Standing Orders no longer applied to that Bill. But the promoters took advantage of that delay to draw out second sets of notices, such as a Parliamentary agent of eminence thought would answer the purpose, and published them in the several papers of the day—a proceeding which cost the company fifty guineas. The Standing Orders Committee, so far from disapproving of that step, took the unwonted course of recommending the House to apply to the Examiner to decide whether these fresh notices were proper, and applied to the Bill. But the measure was so extraordinary, and its character to a certain extent so complex, that the Examiner ruled, for the second time, that the promoters of the Bill had not complied with the Standing Orders. But he (Mr. Mowatt) would ask the Examiner whether his decision might not have been grounded upon points that were trifling in proportion to the comprehensive nature of the Bill itself? Notwithstanding these obstacles, and despite the opposition which was made against the Bill by interested parties, and particularly by existing water companies, the promoters went to the expense of again inserting notices in the public papers, hoping, in case the Examiner repeated his decision that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, that the Committee would relax their usual customs, and treat this measure as they had treated the Bill of the right hon. Baronet. In the case of the Government Bill, the stringency that he (Mr. Mowatt) complained of was not observed. The Committee, by a resolution, obviated that difficulty. Now, the promoters of this Bill thought that they would meet with the same indulgence which had been extended by that resolution to the Government measure, and, in that hope they made a third attempt, and they again applied to the most learned counsel and distinguished Parliamentary agents to ascertain if it might not be possible to draw such notices as might bring the measure within the scope of the Parliamentary rules in respect to Private Bills. But he must say that a Bill which he had already described as of so complicated and comprehensive a character ought not to be subjected to the forms applied to Private Bills. To suppose that the promoters of a Bill for no less a purpose than to supply the whole of this vast metropolis with water, should meet with such difficulties and delays that they could not succeed in bringing their measure within the scope of Parliamentary formalities, would seem almost absurd. But so it was, and after consulting with their Parliamentary agent, who undertook, with the assistance of a solicitor, to draw up a notice which should answer the purpose—after publishing that notice, which was long, consisting of 120 lines of close print, at an expense of 7l. for each advertisement, and which was not submitted to the Examiner, in the hope of receiving from the Committee of Standing Orders the same indulgence they had granted to the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary—that Committee came to a resolution which made it unnecessary that the promoters should take any further trouble. He contended it would be impossible for the framers of a Bill of this kind to comply with the Standing Orders, if it was determined that the measure was to be defined within the term of a Private Bill. He could now only throw himself upon the indulgence of the House, and he thought they would only act in fulfilment of their proper province if they relaxed the rigidity of formal rules in favour of the introduction of a measure of so much importance. He should next proceed to state the construction which had been put by those gentlemen on the Bill, by which they had decided that it was a Private Bill. He should premise that this Bill, which had been brought into the House a second time, was a proposition for supplying with water the whole metropolis within an area of six miles from Charing Cross. No class, no society, no company, were supposed to be benefited by the measure, notwithstanding any construction which might be put on the 9th or any other clause. He relied altogether on the 35th clause. The promoters did not ask by the Bill for any powers to levy rates upon the inhabitants of the metropolis until the company should be in a condition to supply them with water, and they could not place themselves in that condition without going to Parliament for a new Act to give them the necessary powers. It was not the object of the promoters to take powers under this Bill actually to construct the works; but the Bill being brought forward and discussed would have familiarised the minds of the people with the subject, and would have enabled the promoters to negotiate with the existing companies, and, generally, to have arranged their plans for coming back to Parliament and asking for powers to carry out the scheme. It had been urged against the Bill that if it wore passed into a law, any man might wake one morning and find himself rated without knowing for what. No one who had read the Bill could say that, for, by the Bill, no one, as he had already explained, could be rated until the company were in a condition to supply water, and that could not be their condition under this Bill, for it gave no powers to take land or to construct waterworks. He wished to draw the attention of the House to the definition which had ruled the decision of the Committee of Standing Orders. The fifth article of the fifth section of the Standing Orders laid down the rule that no Private Bill could be brought into that House without a petition being first presented, which must be deposited in the Private Bill Office with a printed copy of the proposed Bill annexed; and the rule went on, "provided always that there shall be suitors to the Bill." Now, who, he asked, could be suitors to this Bill? If they had spent 500,000l. indeed, they might have had 1,000,000 of suitors; but that was not their object. The Bill proposed to supply the whole of the metropolis with water; but it was merely permissive in that part that the promoters might make arrangements with the existing water companies, and no means were granted even for paying for those arrangements, if money was wanted before the Bill giving powers was passed. The Examiner ruled that the exact limits of the operation of the Bill had not been defined. The answer to that objection was, that it could not have been done without printing the whole Bill, which would have cost about 1,000l. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had asked for leave to bring in a Bill for the supply of water to the metropolis without having presented any petition, and the provisions of that Bill were far more extensive and stringent than those of the Bill he was advocating. For example, power was given to purchase land on compulsion, or, in other words, to take a man's property whether he was willing or not. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman had twenty points, any one of which would, according to the rigid construction of a Private Bill by the Standing Orders Committee, stamp it as such. There were precedents of Bills, however, for twenty years, which were at once perceived by the common sense of the House to be of an exceptional character, which could not be brought within the Standing Orders. He might mention, as one strong case, the Metropolitan Police Bill introduced by the late Sir Robert Peel, which Bill contained arbitrary powers seldom proposed to Parliament by any Government. Every one would remember the outcry that was roused by that Bill all over the country; it took power to rate persons living out of the district, as well as the metropolis itself, although the police was for the metropolis only. He did not impugn the bonâ fide character of the decision of the Committee respecting the Bill he was advocating; but the promoters of this measure averred that if a common-sense view were taken, it was not a Private Bill. To all intents and purposes the Bill was a public measure; and although the Standing Orders Committee had had no alternative but to follow the rules which were laid down for their guidance, he hoped that the House would perceive that the Legislature was urged by every consideration of common sense and common justice to regard it as a public measure, and to treat it accordingly. He asked nothing further for the Bill than that it should go before a Select Committee. He thought that this scheme, embodying as it did the great principle of representation, should be before the Committee in juxtaposition with the others. He thanked the House for their patient indulgence, and he appealed to their liberality and generous feeling to allow the Standing Orders in this case to be dispensed with.

Motion made, and Question proposed—

"That in the case of the Metropolitan Water Supply (Control of, by Representative Body) Bill, the Standing Orders be dispensed with."

was more disposed to accuse the Committee of being too generous to the hon. Member and his Bill, than to suppose them deserving of the censures he (Mr. Mowatt) had bestowed upon them. The Committee of Standing Orders had endeavoured by all the means in their power to get this measure before a Select Committee, and it was only when they found it impracticable that they abandoned their intention. The hon. Member had put himself out of court upon the question whether this was a Private or a Public Bill. He contended that it was not a Private Bill, and said that he had acted under the advice of able lawyers. For what had he acted under such advice? [Mr. MOWATT: To provide against such a contingency as this.] The circumstances connected with the Bill wore these: It had been brought in at a late period of the Session, long after the Government Bill had been brought before the House, and the House had so far relaxed its Standing Orders in its favour as to allow it to be brought in by two Members on Motion, instead of by petition. It had then been referred to the Examiner of Petitions on Private Bills to see whether the Standing Orders had been complied with in other respects. The promoters had urged that certain notices which had been given in November or December last with reference to another Bill, applied so closely to the present, that they might be accepted as notices of it; and the Examiner at first took time to consider whether he should not make a special report upon that point; but, finding that the notices referred to did not apply to the present Bill, he ultimately came to the conclusion that he should merely report that the Standing Orders had not been complied with; and he did not sec how the Examiner could well have adopted any other course. The Standing Orders Committee then called upon the parties to state why the Standing Orders should be dispensed with, and they averred that since the introduction of the Bill notices had appeared in the newspapers, and the public were perfectly aware of the nature of the measure. But, according to the notices in the newspapers, the Bill applied to the metropolis, whereas in fact it extended to Lewisham, Peckham, Brixton, Hammersmith, and Hampstead, and several other suburban places, and it was quite impossible that duo notice could have been given to the inhabitants of all those parts; and indeed the agent for the Bill admitted that the notices were good for nothing. The hon. Member said that the Bill took no compulsory powers; but a quotation from the Bill would show the contrary. [Here the hon. Member read extracts from the Bill purporting to confer the power of purchasing land.]

said, that there was a clause overriding all that, until the company were prepared to supply water. Until then they could not exercise the powers named in the Bill, which was only preliminary to another Bill giving those powers.

Access to premises might, at least, be had by the provisions of the Bill. He had omitted to mention that the Committee, in their leniency to the promoters of this Bill, had done that which he feared the House would judge to be irregular. When the Committee found that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, they, finding notice had been given, came to a resolution that they would so far concede as that the parties might proceed with their Bill, and the same terms wore imposed as upon the Government Bill. When the parties came, and were told that those terms would he imposed, the agent for the Bill said, if that were done, he was bound to say that the notices were good for nothing. The Committee then made an order, which he held was without precedent, that the matter should be referred to the Examiner, to decide whether the difference was so trifling that the objection was not fatal. The Examiner decided that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, and that the notices inserted in the papers since the introduction of the Bill, did not properly describe the limits. The Bill geve power, if three of the directors desired it, to this company to purchase the property of another water company; and what did the hon. Gentleman mean by saying, that the Bill contained no compulsory powers? [Here the hon. Gentleman road several clauses of the Bill, to show the compulsory powers it contained.] It was absurd, when the Bill had transgressed almost every Standing Order of that House, to say that the promoters had acted under the advice of a great lawyer. He could not conceive a lawyer giving such advice, unless they had deluded him into the belief that the Bill was without compulsory powers, and that notices were not necessary; for in this case the inhabitants had not received a single notice that such a Bill was before the House. The Committee had adopted the same course with the Government Bill which they had done with this, for the Government had been obliged to publish the notices in the usual way. The powers asked for by this Bill far exceeded those of the Government measure. The Bill of the Government did not interfere with private speculation in the manner now proposed. He would only repeat that the Committee on Standing Orders had been perfectly unanimous in thinking that it was quite inconsistent with justice to give the promoters of this Bill a standing before them. He strongly advised the House not to accede to the present Motion, else they might as well abolish the Committee on Standing Orders at once.

was quite willing to admit that the Standing Orders had not been properly complied with; but he was very anxious that the Bill should go before the Select Committee in order that its principle might be considered. The Standing Orders Committee had done their duty; but as this Bill involved a very important question, and as the House had the power of suspending the Standing Orders, he submitted that they might quite consistently afford the requisite facilities for having the measure sent to a Committee upstairs.

said, all that was desired on the part of the promoters of this Bill was that its merits should be fairly examined before the Committee. A direct promise bad been made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) that all the Bills on this subject should go before the same Committee, and he did not see why that promise should not at present he fulfilled. The right hon. Baronet must he aware of the great dissatisfaction prevalent throughout the metropolis regarding the Government Bill. By that measure a tax to the extent of 5,000,000l. was required to furnish the metropolis with water; whereas it had been amply demonstrated that 2,000,000l. was quite sufficient. Nor was this all. The public were provided at very high prices with had water. What was wanted was pure water at the lowest cost, and this could only be attained by placing the control in the hands of the ratepayers. What the House ought to look to was the principle involved in the present Bill. That principle was antagonistic to the monopoly which the Government Bill was endeavouring to bolster up, and which was denounced all over town as a scandalous injustice. If the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) should oppose this Motion, he could not help regarding his conduct, in some degree, as a violation of good faith with the public.

said, he should refrain from entering into any discussion respecting the relative merits of the two Bills, but he rose chiefly to answer the appeal that had been made to him by the hon. Member who had just down (Mr. W. Williams), and which, certainly, was not a fair one. As the question related to a decision of the Standing Orders Committee, the Government ought not, and did not seek, to exercise any influence on the House, in its consideration of the subject. He thought, with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. W. Patten), that if, after the circumstances that had come to the knowledge of the House, it should decide upon the suspension of the Standing Orders, it might as well abolish the Standing Orders Committee altogether. With regard to the promise imputed to him, he had to say that he had never promised to refer this Bill to the Select Committee; and the House was aware that, even if he had said so, he had not the power to carry out such an intention. What he had said was, that he should have no objection to the principle of the Bill being considered by the House and by the Select Committee if thought proper; but he had spoken subject to the orders and regulations of that House. If the Standing Orders had been complied with, he would not have objected to the second reading, in order that the Bill might have been referred to the Select Committee. He might observe that the Select Committee was not obliged to pass any Bill sent before them; and it was very likely that, after the discussion which had taken place on the subject, the Committee might consider whether a measure could be submitted based on the representative system. In supporting the decision of the Standing Orders Committee, he begged distinctly to state that he did so without respect to the merits of the Bill, and to repeat that if this Bill had passed the second reading, he would not have offered any opposition to its being sent to the Select Committee.

recommended that the Motion should be withdrawn, as the sense of the House was manifestly against it. No material injury, after all, would be inflicted on the promoters of the measure by such a proceeding, inasmuch as the Bill was in the hands of every Member of the Water Supply Committee; and though the Bill was not regularly before them, it would be quite competent for them to introduce any of its clauses or provisions into any scheme which they might hereafter think fit to submit to the consideration of the House.

said, he must deny that the measure had the compulsory character attributed to it by the hon. Member for North Lancashire (Mr. W. Patten). The 15th clause distinctly stated that they had again to come to Parliament before the powers referred to by the Bill could be exercised. They had no compulsory power to extinguish the existing companies, to rate the inhabitants, or supply water until they came back to Parliament. Under all the circumstances he would not press his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.