HC Deb 22 May 1848 vol 98 cc1243-51

House in Committee on the Health of Towns Bill.

On Clause 60 (power to compel the paving, &., of private streets),

LORD G. BENTINCK objected to that portion of the clause which makes the following provision:— If any land fronting, adjoining, or abutting upon the parts of any street so sewered, levelled, flagged, paved, or channelled by the said local board, be unoccupied or unproductive, and the owner thereof shall, for the space of twelve months after demand, refuse to pay the expenses due from him, or if he be bankrupt, insolvent, or unknown to the said local board, or cannot be found, it shall be lawful for them, after the expiration of three months' notice in this behalf, affixed or placed on that land, to take possession of, and piece off, and let the same or any part thereof for any term not exceeding ten years. He thought it was rather hard that the owner of the unoccupied or unproductive piece of land should be compelled to see his entire property seized for the maintenance of sewers from which they derived no benefit, and in which they had no interest whatever.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL explained that it was not intended that the clause should apply to highways where the public had a right to the land. But if private landed proprietors chose to open communications with public thoroughfares, their object in so doing being manifestly that of speculation and profit, it was right that they should understand the liabilities they were incurring—liabilities which it was optional with them to incur or not, and which they therefore ought not to shift upon others.

The EARL of LINCOLN observed that the clause, as at present worded, would have a retrospective as well as a prospective operation. Perhaps it would be better that it should only operate prospectively.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL dissented. If the operation were to be thus limited, proprietors who had already opened their streets, but had not dedicated them to the public, would have their sewering done at the expense of the public; whereas other proprietors, who might hereafter pursue a similar course, would have to pay the expenses of sewerage out of their own pockets.

MR. HENLEY: It was quite possible that cases of hardship might arise under the clause, but he feared they could not be avoided. On the whole he thought that the best course the Committee could pursue was to assent to the clause as it stood.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 63, relating to the width of new streets,

MR. S. CRAWFORD moved to expunge the words granting a power of appeal from the local to the general board.

VISCOUNT MORPETH thought it would be best to leave the question of width in the first instance to the local board; different towns having recommended the adoption of different widths. He thought, however, that there should be a power of appeal, and that it should be vested in the general board.

The EARL of LINCOLN said, that much as he was opposed to central control, except in cases in which it was absolutely necessary, he thought the Government were perfectly right in providing for the power of appeal in this case. That power was necessary to guard against undue favour or prejudice on the part of the local board; and he regretted that a similar power had not been given in the succeeding clause.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL thought the appeal to the general board should exist for five years. At the end of that period there might be an alteration, but an appeal to the quarter-sessions would be very expensive, and would be attended with great delay.

MR. HENLEY supported the Amendment. He agreed with the Attorney General that the court of quarter-sessions was a most unfit tribunal for appeal; for the result must always be either a reference to a barrister, or an appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench. He was in favour of leaving the whole matter to the local board.

The Committee divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question:—Ayes 85; Noes 19: Majority 66.

List of the AYES.
Abdy, T. N. King, hon. P. J. L.
Acland, Sir T. D. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Adair, R. A. S. Lacy, H. C.
Arundel and Surrey, Lincoln, Earl of
Earl of Lushington, C.
Bagshaw, J. Mackinnon, W. A.
Baines, M. T. Mahon, The O'Gorman
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Maitland, T.
Bolling, W. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Bowring, Dr. Morpeth, Visct.
Boyle, hon. Col. Napier, J.
Brotherton, J. O'Connell, M. J.
Busfeild, W. Parker, J.
Butler, P. S. Patten, J. W.
Carter, J. B. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Cayley, E. S. Perfect, R.
Clay, Sir W. Pilkington, J.
Clements, hon. C. S. Power, N.
Clive, H. B. Price, Sir R.
Copeland, Ald. Romilly, Sir J.
Courtenay, Lord Russell, Lord J.
Cowan, C. Salway, Col.
Disraeli, B. Sandars, G.
Drummond, H. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Duncan, G. Sidney, Ald.
Duncuft, J. Slaney, R. A.
Dundas, Adm. Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.
Ebrington, Visct. Stanton, W. H.
Egerton, W. T. Stephenson, R.
Foley, J. H. H. Sutton, J. H. M.
Forster, M. Thicknesse, R. A.
Fox, W. J. Thompson, Col.
Grace, O. D. J. Turner, E.
Granger, T. C. Turner, G. J.
Greenall, G. Vane, Lord H.
Halford, Sir H. Verney, Sir H.
Hawes, B. Wawn, J. T.
Hayter, W. G. Willcox, B. M.
Heywood, J. Wrightson, W. B.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wyld, J.
Hood, Sir A. Wyvill, M.
Howard, P. H.
Jervis, Sir J. TELLERS.
Keppel, hon. G. T. Tufnell, H.
Kershaw, J. Bellew, R. M.
List of the NOES.
Anstey, T. C. Locke, J.
Arkwright, G. Newdegate, C. N.
Bentinck, Lord G. Scholefield, W.
Christy, S. Smyth, J. G.
Cubitt, W. Spooner, R.
Gwyn, H. Stuart, Lord D.
Heald, J. Sullivan, M.
Henley, J. W. Williams, J.
Henry, A. TELLERS.
Hudson, G. Crawford, W. S.
Humphery, Ald. Urquhart, D.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 66 (local boards to provide sufficient supplies of water, and may erect water-works, &.) being put, a long conversation ensued as to the literal construction of the clause.

SIR JAMES GRAHAM said, that he had hitherto abstained from taking an active part in the debate. But he could not help saying that he thought the measure had been much improved by the suggestions of the hon. Member for Oxford; and the noble Lord had done well in agreeing to those amendments, and diminishing the power of the central board. But in the clause under consideration, he feared that the powers given to the local boards would be very objectionable. If they looked to the provisions of the following Clause (67), the Committee would see that the local board was to be invested with the power of entering any one's premises; and having satisfied themselves upon the correctness of the report of their surveyor, that the premises were not adequately supplied with water, of furnishing what they should deem a requisite supply, and for the levying a rate upon the premises at their own valuation, as if the owner or occupier had of himself demanded the supply. Now he saw no security whatever that those local boards might not have a pecuniary interest in some local water company, whose interests they would be thus enabled to advance to any extent. Surely those powers were too great. Unless he heard some very good reason for retaining the 67th Clause, he should oppose it.

MR. SLANEY thought a power should be given to compel a proper supply of water to the habitations of the poorer classes; but he agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that the proposed mode of doing it was objectionable. The question really was, whether or not they should retain the portion of the clause providing for the constant supply of water at high pressure, and make it permissive only, and not obligatory.

VISCOUNT MORPETH was aware the powers taken by the clause were of a stringent and somewhat tyrannical character; and before the Committee decided upon it, he would show them the ground upon which he founded his belief that something of a very stringent character was required to meet the extensive privation under which the poorer classes suffered. The noble Lord read extracts from the evidence given before the Sanitary Commission appointed by the late Govern- ment, in which the great destitution of the dwellings of the poorer classes in point of supply of water was dwelt upon; and he contended from those statements that a supply should be made obligatory. He, however, admitted the truth of the observations of the hon. Member for Oxford, that the objects of the Bill would be best promoted by not forcing any system not yet ascertained, but by rather leaving matters which were doubtful to experiment, to ascertain what was the best mode of carrying them into operation. He would, therefore, propose in Clause 66, that instead of making the constant supply obligatory, it should be merely recommended; and, that instead of the words "duty of the local board," the words "lawful for the local board," should be inserted.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 67,

SIR JAMES GRAHAM renewed the objections he had previously made to the powers to be given to the local board, who would be empowered to purchase the waterworks, to compel the laying on of water to their own property, to fix the price, and finally to tax the people for the supply. Besides, the rate would be one on the occupiers and not upon the owners.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL said, that with regard to the rate, there was another clause, which provided that of houses under 10l. all the rates should fall upon the owners, not the occupiers. As to the provisions of the clause, he thought the powers ought to be given with some qualifications, the habits of the poor requiring alteration, especially in the matter of cleanliness, as exemplified in the evidence just read by the noble Lord. He suggested some verbal amendments in the clause.

SIR J. GRAHAM did not think the proposed amendments would meet his objection. And as to the rates, even if paid by the owner, they would be laid upon the occupier in the shape of additional rent. But the hon. and learned Gentleman rather shocked him by his defence of the clause; for he said he was not satisfied with the domestic habits of the lower orders. So that he evidently intended by this minute legislation to interfere with the domestic habits of the lower classes; and one of the great objections to that Bill, excellent as it was in many respects, was, that it had that vice. It was on that account that that was the first clause which he (Sir J. Graham) thought it necessary to interfere with. He wished not to obstruct, but to advance the Bill, and he therefore should go through the clause line by line, and state his objections.

SIR W. CLAY acknowledged that the words objected to would give extraordinary powers to the local boards; yet the House must bear in mind that, under the present remiss system, there were hundreds and thousands of occupiers of small houses in London whose landlords positively refused to provide them with any water, although there were the means of obtaining it very easily in the immediate neighbourhood. The landlords would not listen to the demands of their tenants, and the municipal authorities had no means of interfering. It was, therefore, necessary, for the sake of thousands and thousands of the industrious poor, that some compulsory power should be given by this Bill for the purpose of enforcing the performance of the landlord's duties in this matter.

MR. MILES rather thought that the Tower Hamlets had got a little interest in this Bill. It was quite delightful to hear the hon. Baronet dilate on the insufficient supply of water in his own borough. But the theory of this clause might be very admirable, whilst in practice it would assuredly create such a host of evils as the noble Lord had no conception of. It was all very well to talk of diffusing cleanliness throughout the whole of the community, but this was not the way do it. He trusted, therefore, that the noble Lord would, in accordance with the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) strike out the objectionable words.

VISCOUNT MORPETH suggested the postponement of the clause, as the questions involved in it were very difficult, with a view of seeing whether a provision could be introduced to limit the price at which the water should be supplied, or at all events to put the clause into such a shape as would suit the views if all.

Clause postponed.

SIR J. GRAHAM said, that the noble Lord's postponement of it was only in accordance with the conduct which he had all through pursued, and which had so materially conduced to the success of the Bill.

Clauses from 72 to 78, inclusive, were then struck out of the Bill.

On Clause 80, which provided for the prevention of interment in burial-grounds dangerous to the public health, being read,

MR. HENLEY wished to know what the noble Lord intended to do with the dead. The clause provided that the dead were not to be brought into certain churchyards; but there was no provision in the Bill for having them brought elsewhere; and surely it would not promote the sanitary condition of the public to leave the dead above ground.

MR. MACKINNON said, that his hon. Friend who had just sat down had shown great talent and discrimination in the amendments which he had suggested during the progress of this Bill; but his usual sound judgment appeared to have forsaken him on the present occasion. There was no clause in the Bill more called for by the condition of the country than that now under consideration; but at the same time there was no doubt but that Government should go much further in providing a remedy for the evils of intra-mural interments than was suggested by the present clause. It was clear that if burials were not allowed in full churchyards the parishioners would find cemeteries elsewhere. It should be recollected that at present it was only members of the Church of England who had a right to interment in the parochial burial grounds, and yet no one heard of Dissenters complaining of being unable to find places of burial for their dead. He trusted that his noble Friend would not modify this clause, as he could assure him that a strong feeling existed on the subject throughout the country, and that the clause was regarded by the clergy and the public generally as only a part of a much more extensive measure to be brought in hereafter.

VISCOUNT MORPETH said, that this clause was only a portion of an arrangement intended orginally to be introduced into the Bill, which would have enabled local boards to purchase sites for burial grounds; but it was felt that this subject would involve an amount and a complicity of legislation which would be most injurious, if not fatal, to the Bill, and which it would be desirable to avoid, considering the many other objects of utility found in it. This clause would only come into operation when there was danger to the public health, and in cases where he imagined an action would lie at common law. In such cases it was open to the parishes affected by this clause to purchase new burial grounds; but at the same time it was to be remembered that in all large towns where this clause was likely to apply, there were already public cemeteries in existence. Besides, the clause would only come into effect on a certificate from the general board of health; and the board would naturally inquire into all the circumstances of the case before issuing that certificate; and one branch of their inquiry would clearly be whether there was another available place of burial in the neighbourhood.

MR. HENLEY inquired whether the noble Lord had any objection to introduce words limiting the power of restraining the use of these burial grounds to cases where the parishioners had a legal right to bury elsewhere? He admitted fully the propriety of putting an end to burials in certain places; but he thought that the restriction should be confined to localities where the public had a right by law to go to other burial grounds; and if the noble Lord did not assent to an arrangement to that effect, he should certainly feel it necessary to take the sense of the Committee on the matter.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL was aware of the difficulty which the hon. Member felt in passing this clause, without any provision being made for opening new burial grounds. Every one agreed in the necessity of putting a stop to interments in churchyards, when such interments were obviously dangerous to the public health; but, at the same time, there were no legal means by which the parishes could be compelled to provide new burial grounds. It then occurred to his noble Friend that the local boards might be authorised to provide cemeteries; but this difficulty arose—that they did not want new burial places within the district, which would be only increasing the nuisances, and the moment they went out of the parish legal difficulties arose, which it would require considerable trouble to get rid of. In fact, the subject was surrounded with so many difficulties, that unless they had a Cemetery Bill with almost as many clauses as the Bill now before the Committee, a full remedy could not be provided. The question then remained, whether they would not put a stop to interments in certain burial grounds where such interments were found to be dangerous to the health of the living?

MR. MILES said, that he thought it better, where such nuisances existed, to leave them to be suppressed by indictment under the common law.

MR. HENLEY said, that there were hundreds of places where no cemeteries ex- isted, and where the parishioners might be prevented from burying their dead in other parishes.

MR. WYLD said, that it had been ascertained that in the large manufacturing towns two-thirds of the mortality arose from the overcrowded state of the burial grounds. He thought that much credit was due to Mr. Walker for his exertions in procuring the suppression of the frightful nuisances of Spafields and Enon Chapel in the metropolis. The hon. Member was understood to express his regret that the Bill did not go farther in providing a remedy for such cases.

Clause, with Amendments, agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee to sit again.