HC Deb 23 December 1837 vol 39 cc1517-20
Mr. Wakley

said, that before the House separated he was anxious to draw their attention, and he would do so very briefly, to the state of the House with regard to its ventilation. He certainly admitted, that under the plan lately adopted and put in practice in the House, the atmosphere underwent more frequent changes than under the old system. There was more freshness in the air they respired, but still the new plan was attended with many disadvantages. The air was rendered so hot and dry by the process which it underwent before entering the House, that those Members who were subject to soreness of throat were kept in a state of constant irritation and suffering. He would indeed venture to say, that all those Members who attended closely to their duties suffered more or less from the defective state of the atmosphere in that House. He had himself, in the last Session, suffered severely, and as he felt symptoms of a return of that suffering, unless some better mode of ventilation were adopted, nothing would induce him to retain his seat, as he would not sacrifice his life for the benefit of any party. A gentleman of great scientific reputation had lately examined the place in company with him (Mr. Wakley) and, with the permission of the House, he would read the statement which that gentleman had drawn up as the result of his examination. The gentleman was Dr. Arnott, and the statement he drew up was as follows: Memorandum of an Inspection made by me, this Day, the 22d of December, 1837, of the Arrangement for Ventilating and Warming the House of Commons. In regard to ventilation, I found the great chimney-pump acting strongly, and able, with a small part of its power, to change the whole air in the House in half an hour or less. In regard to heating, I found a collection of flat iron boxes filled with hot water, and sufficient, apparently, to warm as much air as can be required for abundant ventilation in a cold day. But in regard to ventilation, I found the fresh air entering the House through numerous small openings in the floor, and then through a carpet, on which necessarily is deposited a quantity of mud and dust from the boots and shoes of the Members. This deposit is soon, by the passing warm air, converted into a fine or subtle dust, and is carried up to be breathed by the Members present. And in regard to warming, I found that the air was merely heated, but not tempered by moisture. Now, atmospheric air everywhere on earth has naturally a quantity of moisture in it, bearing a certain proportion to its temperature, and which moisture is essential to the health of the organised beings living in it: and it is on this account that over the continent of Europe, where dwellings are generally warmed by close stoves, vessels of water are always placed on the stoves, to diffuse moisture. The two defects mentioned account sufficiently for the dry throats, cough, feverish heat, &c., complained of by Members, and for the much dust found in their dress, and the little left to be swept away, as of old, from the floor. The remedies are—1. To give moisture to the air in any of the usual ways, as by suspending in the heating-chamber a sufficient extent of cloth kept wet. 2. To admit the fresh air into the House through openings not in the floor, but above the floor, in the perpendicular surfaces around, and which openings shall be of sufficient amount to prevent the current through them being at all felt by persons sitting near them. These, or equivalent remedies, would, I am sure, have been suggested by Dr. Reid, the proposer of the present arrangements, had he, by being in London, had the opportunity of seeing the present defective working of his plan; and if they are adopted, the objects will still be attained according to his general principles. N. ARNOTT. Bedford-square, Dec. 22,1837. Now, such being the opinion of Dr. Arnott, he was sure it must be evident to every hon. Gentleman who heard it, that the present mode of ventilation, improved though it undoubtedly had been, was still attended with extreme danger. He hoped that the matter would not be lost sight of, but that, on the contrary, it would be at once taken in hand by the Government.

Mr. Warburton

concurred in every observation that was contained in the statement made by Dr. Arnott. In a matter that so deeply affected the health and the lives of the Members of that House, he thought that no delay whatever ought to take place in applying a remedy.

Mr. Hawes

said, that as Chairman of the Committee under whose direction the plan of Dr. Reid had been adopted, he hoped he might be allowed to say a few words on the subject. He did not know that the hon. Member for Finsbury was about to bring this matter before the House, or he would have been prepared to make a further statement. In the first place he must express a hope that no material alteration would be made in the present mode of ventilating the House without consulting with Dr. Reid, the original projector of the novel plan of ventilation. A very great improvement had undoubtedly been made under the direction of Dr. Reid. The House was greatly indebted to that gentleman, and he hoped that the House would not allow the principles of Dr. Reid's plan to be applied in a somewhat altered form without first consulting Dr. Reid.

Sir John C. Hobhouse

said, that the present mode of ventilation was still attended with great inconvenience and danger. He had gone over the House in company with the hon. Member for Finsbury and Dr. Arnott, and it did certainly strike him that the present system was capable of much amendment. He was not prepared to give a scientific opinion on the subject, but it did appear to him that the alterations suggested by Dr. Arnott were feasible, and might be introduced at a small expense. He begged to be understood as not by any means undervaluing the services of Dr. Reid, but he thought the plans of that gentleman were capable of some improvement. He thought that the hon. Member for Finsbury was entitled to the thanks of the House for introducing this subject; it was one in which the sympathies of the House were entirely with him.

Sir E. Codrington

said, that the ventilation of the House was so imperfect that he every night suffered from it.

Mr. A. White

said, that since he had been in the House he had suffered from cough to a very great degree. He hoped that the Secretary to the Treasury would not grudge a small sum of money in order to enable Members, without a serious sacrifice, to do their duty to their constituents.

Mr. F. Baring

was sure, that after the conversation that had passed, there would be no objection on the part of the Government to forward the wishes of the House; on the contrary, he could promise that their best attention should be applied to this subject. He could assure hon. Members that the Government would not be reluctant to incur any fair and reasonable expense in endeavouring to improve the ventilation of the House. With regard to what had been already done, the Government acted upon the feeling that they were trying an experiment, and that, therefore, they ought not to incur any large expense until there was some fair reason to suppose that the experiment would succeed. With respect to Dr. Reid, of course no measure ought to be taken without first consulting with him. His impression was that Dr. Reid had already received remuneration for his services. As, however, his hon. Friend, the Member for Lambeth, stated that such was not the case, he would be sorry to put his recollection against the statement of his hon. Friend. Before that evening had elapsed he would take care to make inquiries on the subject.

Mr. Wakley

said, that as the sense of the House had been so unequivocally expressed, it was not necessary for him to trouble them with another word. He would only add that he hoped, that if Dr. Reid had any prejudices on this subject, he would be aided by those who had no such prejudices. The existing evil was very great, and unless it was overcome or counteracted by some means or other, he was perfectly satisfied that it would be attended with serious results.

Mr. Hawes

said, that whilst they were upon the subject of the improvement of the House, he would suggest that a great improvement might be made in the mode of taking divisions. He would suggest that a second door should be made for the purpose of facilitating the taking of divisions. At present a division occupied a considerable time, as the Members who went out first necessarily came in last, and therefore all were desirous of being amongst the last to leave the House. If there were two doors, the Members might go out through one and return through the other; and as by this mode those who went out first would be the first to return, he thought that a great saving of time would be effected.

House adjourned till January 16.