HC Deb 16 July 1844 vol 76 cc912-9
The Earl of Lincoln

moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Metropolitan Buildings Bill.

Mr. Hawes

objected to the Bill. There were extensive alterations, as it appeared by a paper laid on the Table that morning, upwards of 100, which Government proposed to make in the Bill, and it was impossible during the present Session to consider them fully. The same improper course had been adopted with regard to other measures; and if it was intended to proceed with the Bill, affecting as it did important interests, he should move the previous question.

The Earl of Lincoln

considered the objection taken by the hon. Member one of the most unfair he had ever heard in that House, and it was more particularly unfair as a preliminary objection; as, with the exception of five or six, the whole of the Amendments were merely verbal. These Amendments had been printed, and circulated among hon. Members in order that the business in Committee might be facilitated. It was said that he was acting unfairly in asking them to go into Committee on the Bill; and yet, late last night, or rather early that morning, the hon. Member himself had stated that he had an immense number of Amendments to propose in the Bill, not one of which had been printed. He appealed to hon. Members whether that was not a most un- usual course? It could not be denied that, by having his Amendments printed, he had afforded an accommodation to the House which the hon. Gentleman had not been gracious enough to afford. Having given the House all the facilities in his power with regard to the further proceeding with the Bill before it, he trusted that a due consideration would not be denied it. Under all the circumstances he should regret, even for the hon. Gentleman's own sake, that he should offer any serious obstruction to the progress of a measure which he had good reason to believe would be very acceptable out of doors.

Mr. Hawes

maintained that many of the alterations proposed by Government were not merely verbal, but very substantial ones. He had general grounds of objection to state against the measure, and it was neither more nor less than a measure making war upon the whole trade of London; and the interference proposed was of so vexatious, minute, and intricate a nature, that, if its provisions were generally understood, the House would be inundated with petitions against it. To so much of it as proposed to improve the old Building Act, there could be no objection. But the Bill went much further than this. It even went to the oppressive extent of interfering with the poor man, in repairing and improving his little property. The House had a right to know the expences in the shape of fees and other official charges which the public would have to pay under its enactments. The amount of patronage would be extensive and mischievous. With respect to docks, warehouses, and large buildings in general, the public had already ample security for their strength, stability, and security against fire, as many of them were built under the regulations of Acts of Parliament, and nearly all under the superintendence of competent architects. If the Bill now before the House passed into law, every alteration made in any buildings, or institutions, including the British Museum, must be affected only under the direction of the Woods and Forests Surveyor. The progress of public works and improvements would be checked and impeded by such restrictions. If, for example, the Bill had been in force when the great railway works were in progress, they could not have been constructed without special permission from the Surveyor of Woods and Forests. It also interfered vexatiously with works of a smaller kind. By some of its provisions a man could not build a bridge over a stream on his own ground unless he obtained the consent of the Board of Woods and Forests. If he built it without such permission, every person who walked over the bridge would be liable to a penalty of 500l. A man would be subject to 500l. penalty for walking over his own bridge! The Bill proceeded on the absurd hypothesis that the whole body of architects in this country were utterly ignorant of their profession. The franchise, too, would be materially affected by it. In Schedule D, page 77, under the head of party walls, and divisions of buildings, it was directed that in any building divided into two, with separate staircases and entrances, a party wall must be built, and the two compartments be regarded and rated as separate buildings. This would have the effect of extinguishing a great number of 10l. votes. He (Mr. Hawes) felt sure that such an effect was not intended by the noble Lord. As the law now stood large buildings divided into separate tenements, as chambers or otherwise, were separately rated, and a vote allowed for each; but by the present Bill only one vote would be allowed, unless a separate staircase and entrance were made, and the tenements divided by a party wall. Though the Bill imposed large penalties it provided no appeal. In Clause 18 and 19, it was provided that any building not made in accordance with the Act should be deemed a nuisance, which the Commissioners of Woods and Forests would be empowered to abate by ordering it to be pulled down. And by these Clauses, not only was the builder to be punished by a fine, but every workman employed in the construction would be liable to a penalty of 50l. The measure would be particularly fruitful in procuring litigation. It ought, at all events, to be postponed to another Session, that the public might at least have time to ascertain and understand how their interests would be affected by it. He must persist in moving as an Amendment the previous question.

Mr. Mackinnon

—Sir: having been a Member of the Committee on the Health of Towns, and taking great interest in the subject, and having given some attention to it, I beg to say a few words on the Bill now under the consideration of the House. As far as buildings in Towns were concerned, the attention of the Committee on Public Health was particularly directed to three points which required to be amended by the Legislature. The first was the necessity of allowing a free ventilation of air by not permitting blind alleys or streets not open at both ends to be erected in future, and I trust this measure will be adopted in the present Bill, every street or alley to be erected in future ought to have a way through, not to be choked up at one end, to be what the French call a "cul de sac," it appeared before the Committee that great unhealthiness prevailed amongst the poor in those districts in the metropolis, and in all large towns where such blind alleys or streets were occupied by any class of persons. The next point was, that houses should be ventilated by not being so constructed as to stand back to back; that is, if the front of the house was towards the street or the entrance, the back part should be open towards a yard or some open space, so as to allow a free current of air to pass from the front to the rear of the house, which could not be the case if a house had no open space behind, but in place of it there was another house built up behind, so that by no possible means could any ventilation take place, as no current of air could go through the house. I beg leave to call the attention of the House and of the noble Lord to this mode of building, that it may in this Bill be corrected. The next point that was deemed of the utmost importance was the drainage of houses and streets, that no house should be constructed without a direct communication under ground, either with the main sewer or branch drain leading to such sewer, so that a drain should be formed for every dwelling. That no cess pool or dead well should be under any house or dwelling, or within a certain distance from it, so that no miasma or noisome evaporation or gas should arise from such dead well or cess pool injurious to the health of the inhabitants, which noisome gas has been deemed by medical men (after that arising from churchyards) the most injurious to public health. In stating this, I do not mean to say that this metropolis is not well drained, it is by far the best drained town in Europe, but although much has been done, yet much remains to be done to improve the present drainage of London. Now, in reference to the Bill before us, it does not appear to me that the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests, has considered the several points which I have mentioned. I see a mass of legislative enactments to prevent chimnies from falling on the heads of Her Majesty's subjects, but who ever heard of chimnies falling by dozens on people's heads? Of what use can be this mass of legislation on very minor points and in detail, which ought not to come under legislative enactments. Under these circumstances, Sir, although I feel great repugnance in going against my noble Friend, and am fully aware of the anxiety he has to pass this measure, yet not thinking this Bill is that of my noble Friend, but that it emanates from some builders or architects, who are desirous of framing a job, and of extending the emoluments of their business, thinking it will prove injurious to the interests of the community by placing obstacles in the way of free building, and that no adequate benefit can result from it, I must, though unwillingly, oppose the further progress of the Bill.

The Earl of Lincoln

never saw a more practical illustration of the phrase "extremes meet," than the opposition of the two hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member for Lambeth made a sweeping attack upon the Bill, and said, it went too far; while his hon. Friend seemed to think that it did not go far enough. He begged to remind his hon. Friend that the recommendation of the Committee to which he had referred, formed the basis of the Bill introduced by the Marquess of Normanby in the other House. After being considered in two successive Sessions, these recommendations were found so objectionable that they were referred to a Select Committee. This Committee took the opinion of architects, practical builders, and other competent persons, and it was then found that scarcely a single Clause of Lord Normanby's Bill could be retained. He had endeavoured to make the Bill as little retrospective as possible. There was no prohibition to placing buildings back to back, and be believed these buildings might be so contrived as not to be injurious to the health of the inhabitants, neither did the Bill include many provisions with regard to drainage, as there was at present a Committee sitting on that subject, and the result of those labours would be a general Bill upon the subject in the next Session of Parliament. The hon. Member for Lambeth had called for the postponement of the Bill, but he (Lord Lincoln) could not see the advantage of such a course, the subject having been already most maturely and fully considered. He had personally consulted persons who were interested in its provisions; he had listened to their suggestions, and firmly believed that the measure as now brought forward, would effect great improvements in the cleanliness and health of the metropolis. He really saw no possible reason for delay. The assurances he had received from metropolitan Representatives, and from other individuals capable of forming sound judgment, justified him in calling on the House to proceed at once into Committee. The hon. Member for Lambeth was strangely inconsistent; he attacked the details of the Bill, and at the same time refused to go into Committee to amend them. The hon. Member (Mr. Hawes) seemed to make quite a point of getting up some plea of objection and opposition to every measure brought forward by Government. He had always some charge of grave culpability to allege against them. He supposed it was the intention of the hon. Member at the end of the Session to indulge the House with a slashing attack on Government, on the ground of the small progress that may have been made in the public business of the country. And if the hon. Member did this, the House would do well to remember that most of the delay would have arisen from the course pursued by the hon. Member himself. The hon. Member had, very unfairly, designated the measure as a war upon the trade of the metropolis. But he contended that it was a useful and valuable measure, and that it interfered as little as possible with trade or with private interests. Great complaint was made by the hon. Member of the interference which he (Mr. Hawes) said the Bill purposed with public as well as private works and buildings, and the hon. Member had instanced the British Museum. Now, the hon. Member was singularly unfortunate in taking the British Museum for an illustration of the truth of his objections; for a request had been made by the trustees of that establishment to include it in the schedule of the Bill, and similar applications had been made with respect to Guildhall, and other great public buildings. Almost the only parties who objected were one or two of the Dock Companies, and these he had declined to exempt for reasons he would be prepared to state, if necessary, to the House. The hon. Member said, that many of the existing lines of railway could never have been completed, had this Bill been in operation at the time they were proceeding with it. But this he would tell the hon. Member, that had it fortunately been the case, they would probably never have heard of, for instance, the late lamentable accident at the Bricklayers' Arms station. He might easily prove the necessity of bringing places of public resort under the operation of the Act. The House and the public had not forgotten that not many years since, a theatre fell in, and a frightful loss of life ensued. He could assure the hon. Member with respect to the object-jection that the Bill would interfere with elective franchise, that no such intention had any part in the framing of the measure. He thought that no lawyer would say that it could have any effect to diminish the franchise. But to avoid all doubt on this point, he should be prepared in Committee to insert words that would probably remove the hon. Member's fears. He would now refer to the hon. Member's objection on the score of the amount of patronage which the measure would place in the hands of Government. Now, patronage was altogether a subject on which he might really say, the present Government was certainly not amenable to blame. It was, perhaps, quite possible for him to retort the charge on the hon. Member, and his (Mr. Hawes's) Friends. But this he was not inclined to do. The principal appointments to be made under the Bill, were the official referees, who must be architects, a registrar, and a clerk; and to call this an extensive addition to Government patronage, was really rather amusing than otherwise. Application had been made to him to increase to seven the number of referees, it being alleged that two could not possibly perform the duties. But he had steadily refused the application. In reference to the penalties and other details alluded to by the hon. Member, the consideration of these details would be more properly deferred till they went into Committee, and he should then be prepared to answer, and if possible to remove any objections that might be offered. The Bill was one of considerable public importance. It was not introduced till after consultation had been taken with many persons of judgment and authority on such subjects. Several architects of eminence and authority Sir R. Smirke, Mr. Barry, Mr. Burton, Mr. Blore, and others, had been consulted. The Bill, he felt convinced, would be found materially conducive to the health, the cleanliness, and general improvement of the metropolis, and he trusted the House would now consent to go into Committee for the purpose of considering its details.

Mr. Tuffnell

said, the measure was one of too great importance to be brought forward at that late period of the Session, and he thought the hon. Member for Lambeth was perfectly justified in opposing it. It affected every building in the metropolis, and was a most unwarrantable interference with the rights of property. No doubt the surveyors were in favour of the Bill, as it brought them a vast additional amount of business. He was somewhat suspicious as to the parties who were to be appointed official referees. There had been an alteration in the wording of the Clause relative to the qualification of these officers. [Lord Lincoln: It is a purely verbal alteration.] He thought it was a most suspicious alteration. The original words were, "an architect or surveyor," and the words substituted were "of the profession of an architect or surveyor." That looked as if a job was intended for some persons at present in the office who had formerly studied architecture. He believed under that Bill a person could not alter a door or window without sending for the Government surveyor. Under all the circumstances, he would recommend its withdrawal, in order that a good Bill, with a sewerage Bill, might be introduced next Session.

The House divided on the question that the question for the Speaker to leave the Chair be put:—Ayes 39; Noes 5; Majority 34.

List of the AYES.
Allix, J. P. Flower, Sir J.
Antrobus, E. Gardner, J. D.
Baillie, Col. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Baring, hon. W. B. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Boldero, H. G. Greene, T.
Broadley, H. Harris, hon. Capt.
Bruges, W. H. L. Henniker, Lord
Burrell, Sir C. M. Herbert, hon. S.
Cripps, W. Hinde, J. H.
Damer, hon. Col. Hodgson, R.
Darby, G. Hope, G. W.
Egerton, W. T. Ingestre, Visct.
Eliot, Lord Jermyn, Earl
Estcourt, T. G. B. Lincoln, Earl of
Meynell, Capt. Trench, Sir F. W.
Mundy, E. M. Trollope, Sir J.
Nicholl, rt. hn. J. Yorke, H. R.
Northland, Visct. Young, J.
Rushbrooke, Col. Pringle, A.
Sutton, hon. H. M. Lennox, Lord A.
List of the NOES.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Ogle, S. C. H.
Bowring, Dr. TELLERS.
Buller, E. Hawes, B.
Mackinnon, W. A. Tuffnell, H.

House in Committee. Amendments made. The House resumed. Main question agreed to.

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