HC Deb 18 May 1848 vol 98 cc1172-82

On the Motion that the Speaker do leave the chair to go into Committee on the Public Health Bill,

COLONEL SIBTHORP said, that he had already announced his intention to oppose the present Bill in every stage of its progress. His antipathy to the measure was not in the least abated. How was it possible that Members could come to a right and proper discussion on a Bill containing 150 clauses, when a copy of it had only been delivered to hon. Gentlemen that morning? He would object to the measure on the ground of undue haste; he would object to it on the ground of its centralising character; and be would object to it because he believed that it was a rank Government job. He was one of those independent Members of that House who did not wear a Government livery, and he was not afraid to speak out. The measure would entail a most heavy expenditure on the country, which was wholly unnecessary. The Government had not stated what was to be the amount of the salaries to the officers whom they proposed to appoint under the provisions of this measure. Now this was a species of information which they ought to have placed before them. He had no doubt that some snug berths would be given to the friends and protegés of the Government. He believed that a Mr. Chadwick was to be appointed to the head of the Commission. Of the conduct of that gentleman he did not approve when he was connected with the Poor Law Commission. But he had heard that he was to be appointed: why not inform the House what was to be the amount of salary he was to receive? He was resolved to oppose every clause of the Bill, and to take the sense of the House upon it. He might be told that this would be giving a factious opposition; but he did not care so long as he considered that he fulfilled his duty. He hated commissions, he hated jobs, and he suspected all Governments. If such a Bill was necessary, why was it not brought forward years ago? Or if it was necessary for one portion of the kingdom, was it not equally so for London and Westminster? It appeared to him that there was an evident disinclination to include either of those cities, and it was their duty to make the first reformation there where it was most wanted. He would move that the House go into Committee upon the Bill that day six months.

Lord JOHN RUSSELL recommended the House to go into Committee at once. It was quite impossible to have any useful discussion upon amendments or alterations unless they were in Committee.

MR. MACKINNON said, the hon. Member for Exeter had said that the noble Lord had adopted the Bill of Mr. Chadwick. Now that was not a fair remark. Mr. Chadwick had been called upon about four years ago, by the Home Secretary of the late Government to make a report upon the health of towns. He produced, accordingly, a very able report upon the sanitary condition of the metropolis, and upon the subject of interment in towns. Mr. Chadwick, therefore, had been brought forward by the late Government; and when the present Government came into office, to whom could they more reasonably go than to Mr. Chadwick? The noble Lord had, throughout the entire discussion, showed the most perfect willingness to adopt suggestions from any one when they were reasonable in their character. He had adopted some suggestions from Mr. Chadwick, in the same manner as he had done those of Mr. Henley. He trusted that they would immediately go into Committee, and that the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln would withdraw his Motion.

MR. DIVETT said, that as the hon. Member for Lymington had charged him with stating very exaggerated facts relative to Mr. Edwin Chadwick, it was necessary for him to restate what he had said, and the grounds on which he had said it. What he had stated was, that the greatest exaggerations had been got up, through the means of Mr. Chadwick, with reference to the Bill, and that the Government were trying, by means of these exaggerations, to obtain powers, with reference to towns, which they ought to exercise with the utmost rigour in respect of the metropolis itself. The hon. Member read a letter from Exeter, giving an account of Mr. Chadwick's exaggerations, stating that the local commissioners had laid out upwards of 100,000l. on that city; that no town in the kingdom was better drained or ventilated; that a considerable decrease of sickness and deaths had lately taken place; and that, indeed, a season was never remembered in which there had been less disease. It was, in fact (continued the hon. Gentleman), impossible to exaggerate the pains which had been taken to get up a case for interference with the country towns.

MR. URQUHART did not think that Government were economising their time by pressing on this Bill. The measure was concocted in perfect ignorance of the laws with respect to the local administration of England; and the effect would be to give greater power than was apparent to the central board, while all power of appeal from the local boards to magistrates, petty sessions, &c., would be taken away. In looking over and comparing the measure with the Municipal Corporation Bill, he found many defects and omissions. There was no definition in the Bill of inhabitant householder, and no provision for the retirement, in rotation, of the members of the local boards. Again, no provision was made for voting. All such arrangements were left to the board. The expenses of elections of auditors were to be allowed or disallowed by the central board, as they thought proper; while there were no provisions for the appointment of a treasurer by the ratepayers; no power in the hands of the ratepayers for the removal of officers; no right of public meet- ing, or means of protesting against the proceedings of the board; no provision for the continuation of trustees under existing Acts; and no provision for the audit or publishing of accounts. The question was one of centralisation. He was sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln had proposed to postpone going into Committee on the Bill to so long a date as that day six months; but were he to alter his proposition of postponement to a delay until this day next month, he (Mr. Urquhart) would cheerfully support it, in order that the Government might have time further to consider the matter. It was said that they who opposed the Bill were frittering away useful time, and sacrificing the health of millions, while they were—to use the word of the noble Lord—"wrangling" here. But the really philanthropic men were those who wished a public health Bill to be passed at once; not a clumsy, encumbered, and almost unintelligible Bill, but a simple and facile one, of universal and instantaneous application—one which should on the one hand grant the municipal bodies those sanitary powers which they needed; and which should on the other hand introduce, and if requisite enforce, laws subjecting those bodies to penalties in the case of their neglecting to put in operation for the improvement of their several districts the powers with which they were invested. He opposed this Bill in the discharge of a solemn duty, commissioned as he was by the whole of his constituency to present every obstacle to its progress. The noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) had stated on a former occasion that he had received a petition in favour of sanitary measures, signed by all the clergy and medical men of Stafford; but he believed that a deputation had waited upon the noble Lord, and had explained what the facts really were. The fact was that there was not a medical man in the town of Stafford who had not either petitioned against this Bill, or signed the requisition for the meeting at which such a petition was adopted; but a petition had been got up in favour of the measure by an apothecary, who was surgeon to an hospital, and who, he had no doubt, expected to be appointed to one of the offices to be created by the Bill. He opposed this Bill as an insult to the corporations of England; and he entreated the noble Lord to leave the regulation of sanitary measures throughout the country in the hands of the local boards.

The House divided on the question, that the word proposed to be left out stand part of the question: — Ayes 219: No 1; Majority 218.

House in Committee.

On Clause 1, describing the extent of the Bill, and excluding London and Westminster from its operation,

MR. CARDWELL suggested to the Government that the great town which he had the honour to represent (Liverpool), possessing, as it did, several local Acts for drainage, sewerage, and water-works, should be treated like London, and exempted from the provisions of the Bill, until a special inquiry had been made into the state of the town, and into the way in which the present sanitary regulations were conducted.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Bill would not be applied without inquiry, or without some direct application of the inhabitants wherever any local Acts existed for sanitary regulations. As to Liverpool, there was no analogy between the circumstances which affected it and those of London and Westminster, because the very complicated arrangements existing in the latter had no parallel in the few local Acts which had been passed for Liverpool. An inquiry into the state of affairs in London was now on foot, and there was a Bill in contemplation applicable to parts of the jurisdiction of London.

COLONEL SIBTHORP said, it was plain enough why London was omitted from the operation of this Bill. The noble Lord at the head of the Government represented it, and he must go along, "jig-jogging," just as his constituents pleased, or there would be a quarrel between them. The city might be full of disease, and deaths might occur every day in consequence of the want of sanitary regulations; but nothing could be done to remedy it till the Commission made their report, and that would only be when the noble Lord wished it. He did not at all regret having divided the House: he had the satisfaction at least of having one honest man with him. But he could tell those hon. Gentlemen who were adverse to the Bill—and many of them were so—he had heard them since he came into the House expressing their dissatisfaction at it—that it would be too late to lock the stable when the steed was stolen—that they should have opposed it at once—and that not having been bold enough to do so, they must settle the matter with their constituents. It was useless to apply to the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) for any alteration in the Bill. He had every confidence in the good intentions of the noble head of the Woods and Forests; but he would not be allowed to stir an inch unless he received the permission of the tutor on his right (Lord John Russell).

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 3 (for the constitution of a "General Board of Health," consisting of the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, and of such two other persons as Her Majesty might appoint),

The EARL of LINCOLN said, he had given notice of his intention to move an alteration in this clause. He was not prepared, however, to move it at present, because the Bill was in a totally different position in consequence of the alterations which had been made in it. It was absolutely necessary that some central body should be appointed to carry out the enactments of the Bill, the Government having adopted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) on a former occasion, and having assimilated the machinery of the Bill to that of the Inclosure Act. The question with respect to the nature of this central body, whether it would be necessary to appoint a new board, or to extend to the operations of this Act the superintendence of some body at present existing, was obviously for the consideration of the House. At present they were not ripe for the consideration of the question, and it appeared to him he would best consult the convenience of the Committee by postponing his Amendment until the report had been presented to the Mouse. He begged to ask the noble Lord, therefore, if it was intended to have three unpaid Commissioners?

MR. NEWDEGATE could not but regret that the Government, in acceding to the proposition of his hon. Friend (Mr. Henley), with respect to the adoption of the machinery of the Inclosure Act, had omitted that clause which was most essential and important—namely, that which made the Commissioners a temporary and not a permanent body. If Government wished to free themselves from the imputation of desiring to extend their patronage, and of putting a finger into everything, let then leave the affairs of each locality to be managed by the inhabitants, and withdraw those Commissioners as soon as they had set the Bill in working order.

LORD J. RUSSELL said, it was the intention of Government to leave the clause in its present state. With respect to the postponement of the noble Lord's Amendment, he certainly believed it was the best course that could be adopted under the circumstances of the case.

R. HUME declared his conviction that the Bill would be useless unless a paid Commissioner were appointed to carry out its provisions. The Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests had quite enough to do already, without managing the affairs of the board. He would propose to appoint a paid Commissioner, with powers equal to those of the other Members of the board, for the others would soon relax in their attention to their duties.

MR. MILES supported the proposition for a paid Commissioner, on the principle that the working of the Bill should be assimilated to that of the In-closure Act.

MR. URQUHART said, he felt it his duty, under all the circumstances, to move that the clause to establish a permanent board be postponed.

MR. HUDSON was of opinion that the board should not be permanent nor central, but that the execution of the provisions of the Act should be left to the local bodies.

VISCOUNT MORPETH said, there would be greater inconvenience in acceding to the proposition than in not complying with it.

The Committee divided on the question that the clause be postponed:—Ayes 45; Noes 145: Majority 100.

List of the AYES.
Anstey, T. C. Harris, hon. Capt.
Arkwright, G. Henley, J. W.
Baldock, E. H. Hildyard, T. B. T.
Bankes, G. Johnstone, Sir J.
Bentinck, Lord G. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Beresford, W. Lincoln, Earl of
Boldero, H. G. Lindsay, hon. Col.
Brooke, Lord Lowther, hon. Col.
Buck, L. W. Masterman, J.
Cardwell, E. Neeld, J.
Christy, S. Newdegate, C. N.
Clive, H. B. Pearson, C.
Compton, H. C. Pechell, Capt.
Disraeli, B. Pilkington, J.
Duncan, Visct. Powlett, Lord W.
Duncombe, hon. A. Sibthorp, Col.
Duncombe, hon. O. Smyth, J. G.
Egerton, W. T. Spooner, R.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Stuart, Lord D.
Forbes, W. Sutton, J. H. M.
Fuller, A. E. Turner, G. J.
Galway, Visct. TELLERS.
Halford, Sir H. Hudson, G.
Hall, Sir B. Urquhart, D.
Abdy, T. N. Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.
Acland, Sir T. D. Hobhouse, T. B.
Adair, R. A. S. Hodges, T. L.
Aglionby, H. A. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Anson, hon. Col. Howard, hon. E. G. G.
Armstrong, Sir A. Howard, P. H.
Arundel and Surrey, Hume, J.
Earl of Jackson, W.
Ashley, Lord Jervis, Sir J.
Baines, M. T. Keppel, hon. G. T.
Barnard, E. G. Kershaw, J.
Barrington, Visct. Lemon, Sir C.
Bellew, R. M. Lewis, G. C.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Loch, J.
Blackall, S. W. Lushington, C.
Boyle, hon. Col. Mackinnon, W. A.
Bramston, T. W. M'Cullagh, W. T.
Brown, W. Maitland, T.
Burke, Sir T. J. Mangles, R. D.
Busfeild, W. Marshall, J. G.
Butler, P. S. Martin, C. W.
Carter, J. B. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Cavendish, hon. C. C. Mitchell, T. A.
Cavendish, W. G. Morpeth, Visct.
Clay, J. Mulgrave, Earl of
Clay, Sir W. Muntz, G. F.
Cobden, R. Nugent, Lord
Cockburn, A. J. E. Ogle, S. C. H.
Conyngham, Lord A. Owen, Sir J.
Courtenay, Lord Palmer, R.
Cowan, C. Parker, J.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Pigott, F.
Craig, W. G. Pinney, W.
Crawford, W. S. Power, Dr.
Divett, E. Power, N.
Dodd, G. Price, Sir R.
Drummond, H. Pugh, D.
Duncuft, J. Pusey, P.
Dundas, Adm. Reynolds, J.
Dundas, Sir D. Rice, E. R.
Dunne, F. P. Rich, H.
East, Sir J. B. Robartes, T. J. A.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Romilly, J.
Evans, J. Russell, Lord J.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Russell, F. C. H.
Foley, J. H. H. Rutherfurd, A.
Fordyce, A. D. Salwey, Col.
Forster, M. Sandars, G.
Fox, R. M. Scholefield, W.
Fox, W. J. Seymer, H. K.
French, F. Shafto, R. D.
Gardner, R. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Glyn, G. C. Shelburne, Earl of
Grace, 0. D. J. Slaney, R. A.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Smith, J. A.
Granger, T. C. Smith, J. B.
Greene, J. Smollett, A.
Grenfell, C. P. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
Grenfell, C. W. Stanton, W. H.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Sturt, H. G.
Grey, R. W. Talfourd, Serj.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Tennison, E. K.
Guest, Sir J. Thicknesse, R. A.
Hawes, B. Thompson, Col.
Hay, Lord J. Thornely, T.
Hayter, W. G. Towneley, C.
Heald, J. Towneley, R. G.
Heneage, G. H. W. Walmsley, Sir J.
Heneage, E. Watkins, Col.
Henry, A. Wawn, J. T.
Hindley, C. Williams, J.
Williamson, Sir H. Wood, W. P.
Wood, rt. hon. Sir C. Wyld, J.
Tufnell, H. Hill, Lord M.

CAPTAIN HARRIS moved the omission of the words beginning "together with four other persons," down to "general Board of Health," both inclusive, his object being to place the Board of Health under the exclusive superintendence of the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, instead of combining with him "four such other persons as Her Majesty by warrant under Her sign-manual should be pleased to appoint," as proposed by the clause.

VISCOUNT MORPETH could not assent to the proposed Amendment; for although he should, of course, do all in his power to cary into effect the wishes of the Legislature if it should be pleased to impose on him the exclusive burden of superintending the board, still the multiplicity of functions with which the First Commissioner was at present charged would render it impossible for him to pretend to take on himself fully, duly, and without the assistance of some person regularly attached to the board, to fulfil the duties which would be thus thrown upon him.

MR. NEWDEGATE was still of opinion that the centralising character of the Bill was injurious. By bringing local grievances into one focus, the Government would be falling into the error of a neighbouring country, which, in consequence of having for years centralised everything, ended by centralising discontent.

MR. P. HOWARD would remind the hon. Gentleman, that, by one of the clauses, it was necessary that the operations of the Act should originate with the local authorities, and upwards of one-tenth of the inhabitants. That, however, would be a matter for subsequent consideration. If the operation of the Bill were limited to five years, like the Tithe Act, the Enclosure Act, and the Poor Law Act, little injury could result from cntralisation. In case of the sudden appearance of cholera, or any violent disease, how important was it that some centralising power should exist, if it were only for the purpose of diffusing information, and preventing undue excitement and alarm!

Motion withdrawn.

VISCOUNT MORPETH observed, that the Government were really anxious to collect the sense of the House on the clause, and, as far as was consistent with duty, to act upon it. He admitted that much feel- ing had been expressed against a wholly unpaid board; but he trusted that the Committee would permit the clause to be proceeded with which affirmed the proposition that a Commission should be appointed. They could then proceed to determine what powers ought to be entrusted to the local boards.

MR. URQUHART was of opinion that the Committee ought not to proceed to consider the subsequent provisions of the Bill until they had first determined on the formation of the central board.

MR. HUME said, he should be satisfied to have one paid Commissioner, the head of the Woods and Forests being responsible in that House. The Government must bring in a Bill for the metropolis; it was impossible to do without one. He should like every community to carry on their own improvements; but when they neglected their duty, there should be a central board to point out to them what was necessary to be done.

After some conversation,

LORD J. RUSSELL said, it appeared to him to be the sense of the Committee that one of the Commissioners should be paid. It struck him, however, that there should be the appointing a Commissioner, who, holding office in the Government, and having a seat in the House of Lords, would be able to state the views of the Commission. It would not be right, he thought, that the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, and the member of the Commission in the House of Lords, should be merely mouthpieces, or that everything should depend on one paid Commissioner. The other Commissioners must know perfectly well what was going on; and if they could not enter into details, they would not be able to defend or explain the decisions of the Commission. With this explanation, seeing the sense of the Committee, he would suggest that the present clause should stand as it did, with the understanding that when the Committee came to the 6th Clause words should be inserted under which one of the Commissioners would be paid.

COLONEL SIBTHORP said, that as it was then past nine o'clock, and as the noble Lord at the head of the Government had given an assurance that at that hour the Borough Elections Bill should be brought forward, he should move that the Chairman do report progress.

VISCOUNT MORPETH said, that after the opinion of the House had been so au- dibly expressed, after this clause had been under consideration for three hours, and after his noble Friend's announcement of his willingness to comply with the general feeling of the House, he trusted the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln would evince a wish to accommodate by not opposing the passing of this one clause, after which the Chairman might immediately report progress.

COLONEL SIBTHORP said, he placed himself in the hands of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), relying entirely on his adherence to his promise.

LORD J. RUSSELL said, that if the hon. and gallant Member required that the Chairman should report progress he felt bound to consent.

COLONEL SIBTHORP: I do require it.

The House resumed.

Committee to sit again.

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