HC Deb 19 May 1848 vol 98 cc1212-21

House in Committee on the Public Health Bill.

On Clause 19, which regulates the qualification of electors and scale of voting, being proposed,

CAPTAIN PECHELL objected to the principle of giving an individual a number of votes in proportion to the amount of property possessed by him. He protested against the unconstitutional system of plurality of votes, being incorporated in the present measure.

VISCOUNT MORPETH said, it was true that the principle was borrowed from the Poor Law Act, and he thought it a just one.

MR. HENLEY said, that he had not yet been able to determine what portion of the expense to be incurred under the Act would fall upon the owner of property, and what portion upon the occupier. At present it appeared doubtful whether the sewers rate (which now was a landlord's tax) would not henceforth be a tenant's tax. In that case it would be only fair to give all occupiers a vote. At the same time, he thought it would be desirable to establish a scale of voting in proportion to property, otherwise the poorer classes might defeat the object of the Bill, in order to relieve themselves from the burden of rating.

MR. HUME reminded the Committee that, by this Bill, a poor man was not eligible as a member of the local board, therefore it became more incumbent on Parliament to give him an equal power with his richer neighbour to vote for the election of others; but by conferring a plurality of votes on men of property, the poor man's vote would be rendered valueless. The municipal system which had been adopted had worked most beneficially and harmoniously; where all persons rated were entitled equally to one vote. The same system should be pursued with regard to sanitary regulations.

MR. GRANGER said, that by this clause, the ratepayers and owners of property of a rateable value amounting to 100l., and less than 150l., should have three votes. He would move that the words "one hundred and fifty pounds" be struck out, and the words "two hundred pounds" be inserted.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL observed, that as the chief business of the local boards would be the construction of a sewerage, it was highly desirable that the holders of property should have a potential voice in the matter, because they would take care, for the sake of their own interests, that the money laid out should be expended for a permanent work, and one that would not require to be performed again. If the small occupiers had to decide what works should be executed, they would only do what was necessary to be done at the time. The principle of a plurality of votes was part of the poor-law, of which no complaint had been made, though complaints had been directed against the central authority.

House in Committee.

MR. MUNTZ had heard a great deal about this Bill being a Bill for the benefit of the poor man; but he wished to know why so much pains were taken to keep the management of matters in the hands of the rich?

VISCOUNT MORPETH observed, that although, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, a central board could not be dispensed with, they thought that the local boards might be so constituted as to give as little occasion as possible for interference by central authority. He must say, that although he had received many communications from the country on the subject of this measure, he had not received any remonstrance against this particular clause.

SIR W. CLAY observed, that in corporate towns the boards of health would be elected by single votes, while in towns not incorporated plurality of voting would prevail. Nothing could be more unpopular among the large constituency which he represented than the latter plan.

VISCOUNT DUNCAN opposed the clause as it stood. He saw no reason why persons, under this Bill, should not possess votes in the same manner and upon the same terms that they did under the Municipal Corporations Act.

LORD J. RUSSELL said, that the noble Lord the Member for Bath seemed to deny that the present measure was a poor man's Bill; but he appeared to forget that the question before the Committee was not one as to political franchise or political voting, but one which was highly important to the public health; and the question which the Committee had to decide was, whether or not there should be a plurality of votes or merely a right of single voting. Now, he did not see it was much to the purpose to state what was the practice in Scotland, but what was likely to work well here. Many hon. Members then present would recollect, that in the year 1817 the existing state of the poor-laws attracted a great deal of serious attention, and that a Committee had been appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the whole subject. Mr. Sturges Bourne was the chairman of that Committee; and the report of that Committee recommended that plurality of votes should be resorted to. The maladministration of the poor-law had been much complained of, and it was considered that the advantage which a plurality of votes would give to property, must have a tendency to correct that maladministration. In the year 1818, Parliament adopted the recommendation made by the Committee over which Mr. Sturges Bourne presided; and from that time forward in every revision which the poor-law underwent, that principle was recognised and acted on. Even the last occasion upon which any change was made—namely, in the year 1844, the same provision was continued which had originally been taken up in the year 1818. It appeared to him that the argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had been misapprehended; he argued that persons of property were interested in the permanency of public works; they were interested that works executed on their own properties should be substantial and likely to be durable, but small occupiers having no permanent interest, were indifferent upon such subjects.

MR. BROTHERTON said, his constituents were not interested in the matter, because, being a corporate borough, they were not affected by the clause. He merely rose to state, that the owner would pay at least five times as much as the occupier. If there were a street in any town not sewered or paved, or if a new street were made, all the expenses were laid in the Bill upon the owner. Until the street was completed, it was not looked upon as a highway, and the occupier was not liable to any payments in respect to its sewerage or maintenance.

MR. WAWN claimed the vote of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Brotherton) if he wished to maintain his character for honesty. The hon. Member said, this clause did not concern his constituency, because their town was a corporate one; now he called upon him to give the same privileges to the town he represented, which had not a corporation.

CAPTAIN PECHELL wished the House to remember that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had declared that the present Bill was not a poor man's Bill. [Lord J. RUSSELL: I said no such thing.] That was the conclusion naturally to be drawn from the noble Lord's speech. He must deny that the clause was framed on Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act. It was framed on an entirely new principle, which gave the owner double the number of votes possessed by the occupier. Nobody could deny that Brighton, the town he represented, was clean, well-drained, and healthy; and yet that was effected under a system of single voting.

MR. GRANGER would withdraw his Amendment, as it did not seem to meet with much favour from the Committee, inasmuch as it went too far for Her Majesty's Government, and not far enough for his hon. Friends near him. The House had, therefore, better first decide whether it was in favour of single voting or plural voting.

Amendment withdrawn.

MR. MUNTZ could not believe the House saw the position in which it would be placed by this change. In a town not now a corporation, the votes were plural; but what would they do when such a town happened to be made a corporation?

The House divided on the question that the clause stand part of the Bill:—Ayes 113; Noes 38: Majority 75.

List of the AYES.
Abdy, T. N.Bentinck, Lord H.
Adair, H. E.Berkeley, hon. Capt.
Adair, R. A. S.Brackley, Visct.
Anstey, T. C.Brooke, Lord
Armstrong, R. B.Brooke, Sir A. B.
Arundel and Surrey,Buck, L. W.
Earl ofBunbury, E. H.
Baines, M. T.Busfeild, W.
Bellew, R. M.Campbell, hon. W. F.
Benbow, J.Cholmeley, Sir M.
Christy, S.Marshall, J. G.
Clive, H. B.Mitchell, T. A.
Cochrane, A.D.R.W.B.Morgan, O.
Courtenay, LordMorpeth, Visct.
Cowper, hon. W. F.Morison, Sir W.
Davie, Sir H. R. F.Mulgrave, Earl of
Drumlanrig, Visct.Newdegate, C. N.
Duncuft, J.Norreys, Lord
Dundas, Adm.Paget, Lord G.
Dundas, Sir D.Parker, J.
Ebrington, Visct.Patten, J. W.
Edwards, H.Pendarves, E. W. W.
Evans, W.Pigott, F.
Ferguson, Sir R. A.Pinney, W.
Fitzwilliam, hon. G. W.Power, N.
Foley, J. H. H.Price, Sir R.
Fordyce, A. D.Pugh, D.
Forster, M.Rice, E. R.
French, F.Rich, H.
Galway, Visct.Romilly, J.
Gladstone, rt. hon. W.E.Russell, Lord J.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.Russell, F. C. H.
Granger, T. C.Rutherfurd, A.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.Seymer, H. K.
Grey, R. W.Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Guest, Sir J.Shelburne, Earl of
Halford, Sir H.Slaney, R. A.
Hawes, B.Smith, J. A.
Hay, Lord J.Smyth, Sir H.
Heald, J.Smyth, J. G.
Henley, J.Somerville, rt. hn.Sir W.
Herbert, rt. hon. S.Spooner, R.
Heywood, J.Stanton, W. H.
Hildyard, T. B. T.Sturt, H. G.
Hobhouse, T. B.Sutton, J. H. M.
Hodges, T. L.Talfourd, Serj.
Hood, Sir A.Towneley, C.
Howard, P. H.Tynte, Col.
Hudson, G.Verney, Sir H.
Inglis, Sir R. H.Vivian, J. E.
Jervis, Sir J.Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Johnstone, Sir J.Ward, H. G.
Keppel, hon. G. T.Watkins, Col.
Lewis, G. C.Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Lincoln, Earl ofWyvill, M.
Lindsay, hon. Col.
Mackinnon, W. A.TELLERS.
Maitland, T.Hill, Lord M.
Manners, Lord G.Tufnell, H.
List of the NOES.
Barnard, E. G.King, hon. P. J. L.
Berkeley, hon. H. F.Meagher, T.
Bernard, Visct.Mowatt, F.
Bowring, Dr.Muntz, G. F.
Brotherton, J.Pilkington, J.
Brown, W.Reynolds, J.
Clay, J.Salwey, Col.
Clay, Sir W.Sidney, Ald.
Crawford, W. S.Strickland, Sir G.
Duncan, Visct.Stuart, Lord D.
Fergus, J.Thicknesse, R. A.
Fox, W. J.Thompson, Col.
Freestun, Col.Thompson, G.
Frewen, C. H.Thornely, T.
Greene, J.Walmsley, Sir J.
Grosvenor, Lord R.Wawn, J. T.
Hall, Sir B.Wood, W. P.
Hardcastle, J. A.
Humphery, Ald.Hume, J.
Kershaw, J.Pechell, Capt.
Clause agred to.

On Clause 29, the duty of the Local Board of Health, from time to time, to appoint fit and proper persons to be surveyor, inspector of nuisances, treasurer, &c., the appointment of the surveyor to be subject to the approval of the General Board of Health,

MR HENLEY objected to the latter provision. It would be much better not to divide the responsibility, but to leave the entire matter of the appointment of the surveyor in the hands of the local board. He could not understand what good result would follow from enacting that the appointment should be subject to the approval of the central board.

MR. HUDSON said, the local authorities were permitted to appoint their town clerks and other officials; and why should the local boards of health not have the full control of such an officer as a surveyor?

VISCOUNT MORPETH observed, that he had already given up to the local boards many of the appointments of officers. His own opinion was, that in the cases both of the surveyor and of the inspector of nuisances, it was desirable that a power of approval should be retained in the hands of the central board. The inspector, from the very nature of his office, was liable to become the object of petty local jealousies, because of the faithful discharge of his duties; and on that account it was highly desirable that he should be enabled to fall back for protection on the central body. He (Viscount Morpeth) was willing to concede to the local boards unreserved authority in the case of the surveyor; but he hoped the Committee would not press him to deprive the officer of health of the shield which was afforded to him by that enactment of the Bill which provided that he should, in some degree, be under the authority and protection of the general board.

MR. HUME was sorry that the noble Lord had given way even to the extent he had. He had seen sufficient of local officers, appointed exclusively by local boards, to be sensible of this fact, that they had great difficulty in acting with justice and firmness when the proper discharge of their duty happened to come in collision with the interests of the board; and it was, therefore, highly expedient that they should be protected as much as possible. It was desirable that the officers should be appointed by the local boards; but they should be at least subject to the superintendence of the general board.

MR. HENLEY asked, how the hon. Member for Montrose would feel, if, acting, for example, as a commissioner of sewers, he was to find the appointments of the commission controlled by a superior power in the metropolis? He did not see why the inhabitants of such towns as Manchester and Birmingham were not as much to be trusted in the election of office-bearers as the commissioners of sewers.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 31, having reference to the preparing of a map of the sewerage, being proposed,

MR. HENLEY said, he hoped the noble Lord would consent to expunge this clause. The clause provided that the local board should send to the general one for approval a map and plans, showing how it was proposed to drain the district; and that if the general board gave their sanction, it should then be the duty of the local board to carry out the plan. Supposing, however, that the latter body did not wish to do anything at all, they might send up plans which they knew would not be approved; these plans would be sent back as insufficient. In two or three months after, other insufficient plans would be forwarded, and also returned; and thus the inhabitants of the neighbourhood would be taxed for the preparation of useless plans. Under these circumstances, there would be no power of compelling the local board to take any steps. On the other hand, as regarded parties who were disposed to do what was necessary, it could not be supposed that such towns as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and York, would be unable to find persons skilful enough to give advice in such matters. If they left the matter to local boards, very imperfect plans would be sent up. He hoped the clause would be struck out of the Bill.

VISCOUNT MORPETH hoped a general system would be carried out as proposed. He wished, however, to go as far as he could to promote a system of encouragement, instead of one of punishment. He therefore intended to propose that the latter part of the clause should be struck out, and that a proviso should be inserted to the effect that local boards should propose plans for general drainage of the respective towns.

Clause agreed to.

In Clause 50, relative to furnaces being so constructed as to consume opaque smoke, the insertion of the words, "mines and works for the manufacture of bricks and other articles of clay," with a view to except them from the operation of the clause, was moved by Mr. FOLEY.

DR. BOWRING said, that he scarcely thought that the Amendment went far enough. He considered that collieries ought to be also included among the excepted works.

VISCOUNT MORPETH said, that considerable uneasiness had been created among some trades as to the application of the clause as it originally stood. It was stated that there were certain processes in the manufacture of glass and metal in which the smoke could not be consumed; and the Government had accordingly agreed to omit from the provisions of the clause glass works, metal works, and potteries. He was willing to extend the exception to other works similarly circumstanced, including brickworks and limeworks. In fact, wherever furnaces were used, it was difficult to apply the enactment; but this difficulty did not apply to any works in which a steam-engine was used. Steam-engines were universally used in collieries, and he could not, therefore, consent to extend the exception to these works. He might add, that he was himself interested in collieries, as his father was a considerable proprietor of coal fields.

MR. HUDSON said, that he thought coke works ought to be excepted from the Bill.

An HON. MEMBER observed, that, if the Bill had been passed as it had been originally introduced, the effect of it would have been to cause the employers in the manufacture of coke and many other articles to dismiss all their men. As the clause at present stood amended, some of the objections to it were removed; but he could tell the noble Lord that the master manufacturers put very little faith in the amendments which had been introduced.

SIR J. WALMSLEY said, that the iron manufacturers in the country would find the utmost difficulty in carrying out the provisions of the clause. In Staffordshire, where there were important manufactories of coke, it would be found highly objectionable to enforce the clause. It was very necessary for the House to consider whether such important manufacture should be disturbed.

MR. BAILEY thanked the Government for bringing in the measure, the principle of which he recognised to be highly beneficial; he must say, however, that he considered the clause to suppress smoke would be exceedingly injurious in the manufac- ture of iron. He had been in the habit for many years of burning 1,100 tons of coal a day, and he had tried many methods for the consumption of smoke. But he had not been successful further than to save himself from heavy penalties. If the coal was bituminous it was impossible to prevent a great degree of smoke. He would be very happy to support the Government in anything which was practicable, but he considered that it would be impossible to enforce this clause.

MR. HUTT said, that the clause had excited great alarm in the northern districts. To forbid smoke was virtually to forbid the manufacture of coke, for the latter was made by the smoke.

VISCOUNT MORPETH: Considering the strong opinions which have been been expressed upon this subject, I think it will be more expedient to agree to the clause at present. I will take the objections into consideration, and state my intentions upon it upon the bringing up of the report.

SIR EDWARD BUXTON said, that the firm with which he was connected had made various experiments for the consumption of smoke, and had incurred very heavy expenses in endeavouring to attain that object, in which they had not succeeded. There was no expense to which they would not be willing to go could they but succeed. The subject was most difficult, and very comprehensive; and he was of opinion that the present state of knowledge upon the matter was so defective that there was little room to hope for success.

CAPTAIN HARRIS hoped that the Government would not abandon the clause, but would endeavour to carry it out, at least as far as it was practicable.

MR. EDWARDS: I perfectly coincide with the opinions of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House, and I trust the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests will not again be induced to give way. Having myself seen the experiment tried for more than two years, I can speak with perfect confidence to its practicability; and I am perfectly satisfied, that in all cases where a steam engine is employed—by the use of a proper furnace, and due attention on the part of the fireman—no opaque smoke need issue from the chimney, and the saving of fuel is very considerable. The great difficulty to contend against is in overcoming the scruples and prejudices of the stoker, who, independent of the little extra trouble he may have in feeding his furnace, has no particular inducement to abate the evil. On the contrary, I have great reason to believe that the man is generally remunerated by certain parties in proportion to the quantity of coal he consumes. Living as I do in the centre of one of the most beautiful, and at the same time one of the most populous, districts of England, I deeply deplore this growing evil, being quite alive to the monstrous and most intolerable nuisance; which, besides being most obnoxious to the feelings and comfort of the inhabitants, is acknowledged by all to be most deleterious, and prejudicial in the highest degree to animal and vegetable life. I must again urge upon the noble Lord the desirability of adhering to the clause as it now stands, although I confess that, as far as the consumption of smoke is concerned, I infinitely prefer the original to the amended Bill—which, to my sorrow, I find is partly burked by the words "if practicable" being smuggled into it.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses to 56 agreed to.

The House resumed. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.

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