HC Deb 09 August 1853 vol 129 cc1571-91

Order for Committee read.


presented a petition from a Sanitary Committee at Stoke Newington, praying that, as the Bill only continued the existing Commission for one year, such borrowing powers only should be given them as was necessary for the execution of works which were urgently demanded.


said, that in point of fact the Commission expired on the 7th of August, and he wished, therefore, to inquire whether it was possible to continue a thing which had no existence?


said, his noble Friend must not be surprised to be informed that Parliament had the power of continuing an Act which had no existence. The Act of 48 Geo. c. 106, provided specially for cases of this sort. He might here state that, he had given notice that he should move an instruction to the Committee, which might appear an enlargement of the powers of the Commission, but which was, in point of fact, a restriction of them. By the law as it now stood the Commission had unlimited powers of borrowing. He originally proposed to restrict the power to 500,000l., of which 100,000l. was the sum already borrowed. A number of the metropolitan Members, however, having urged that their constituents were alarmed at the large amount of new debt to be contracted, he had desired the Commissioners to revise their estimates, and to strike out from the works which they had intended to do within the twelve months everything but that which was urgently necessary for the comfort of the inhabitants. The Commissioners had done so, and he had now to propose to diminish the borrowing powers of the Commission from 500,000l. to 300,000l., that was to say, the 100,000l. formerly borrowed, and 200,000l. additional. With respect to the sewerage at West Hackney, he begged to state to his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) that before the works were undertaken, he (Lord Palmerston) should be happy to receive a deputation from the people of West Hackney, composed of those who were most competent to form an opinion, and to judge of the matter, and to invite the Commissioners of Sewers to meet them at the Home Office for the purpose of having the matter discussed between them; and he could assure his hon. Friend that nothing should be undertaken which was not considered as adapted to relieve the district from the inconvenience of which the inhabitants loudly complained. With regard, also, to drainage works in other districts, if the inhabitants thought that they were not calculated to afford them relief, they would not be proceeded with. He knew that in many parts of the metropolis the greatest inconvenience was now suffered from the want of drainage; and that the reduction which he had thought it right to make, in deference to the wishes of the metropolitan Members, would still leave unaccomplished many works which were most urgently necessary; but if he should be able in the early part of next Session to reconstruct the Commission, and put it on a different footing, there would probably be time to make provision for those works without any material inconvenience being sustained meanwhile.


said, if he rightly understood the noble Lord, he would take the opinion of the inhabitants of the district in which the outlay was to be made; but if the result were only to be that, after a conference of that nature, the opinion of the Committee was still to be maintained, then he should object to so much of the expense as would be occasioned by converting Hackney Brook into an arterial sewer.


said, if he found the people of West Hackney did not wish to improve their sewers, he did not apprehend the Commissioners would wish to force them.


said, that the noble Lord was mistaken, in supposing that at present the Commissioners had power to raise money to an unlimited amount. He was quite aware of the clause in the 11 & 12 Vict. which appeared to have conveyed the impression to the noble Lord; but the noble Lord would find, upon inquiry, that the power of borrowing was so restricted and hampered by other clauses in the same Act, that, practically, the Commissioners had no such power as the noble Lord imagined. His noble Friend, therefore, instead of restricting the powers of the Commissioners, did, in point of fact, propose to give them powers which they did not possess. He must say, that he thought the noble Lord had pursued a course with reference to this Bill which was hardly fair towards the House, and was most unjust towards the inhabitants of the metropolis. Previous to the Easter recess, he (Sir B. Hall) asked the noble Lord what he intended to do with the irresponsible Commission of Sewers? The noble Lord stated frankly, that it was utterly impossible to answer the question until the great London Drainage Bill was disposed of. That Bill was disposed of on the 14th of June, when he again asked the noble Lord what course he intended to take. The noble Lord replied, that he intended to bring in a Continuance Bill. In pursuance of this statement, a Continuance Bill was brought in on the 14th of July, and read a first time. It was read a second time on the 18th of July, about two or three o'clock in the morning, and without the slightest opposition from the metropolitan Members, because they placed confidence in the assurance that was given them, that the Bill should be a mere Continuance Bill for one year, and they could not for one moment suppose that any clause would be proposed, empowering the Commissioners to raise money by mortgage on the rates of the metropolis. But no sooner was the Bill read a second time, than a clause was circulated, enabling the Commissioners to raise 500,000l. by mortgage of the rates. This course of proceeding was not fair to the House or the metropolitan Members. He complained that the privilege of managing their own local affairs, which was enjoyed by the inhabitants of every borough in the kingdom, was denied to the inhabitants of the metropolis, who had no control over the expenditure of rates, levied by irresponsible Commissioners. He might state, with reference to the history of the Commissioners of Sewers, that in 1851, when the Act under which they were appointed expired, great discontent with regard to their proceedings existed in the metropolis, and a measure was eventually adopted, continuing the Commission for one year, and appointing a salaried Commissioner to preside over the body. The Metropolitan Sewers Act required the clerk of the Commissioners to keep a record of their proceedings, which was to be open to the inspection of the ratepayers. He must remind the House that the Commissioners possessed very extensive powers, for they were enabled to levy a taxation of about a quarter of a million annually, without any control on the part of the ratepayers, upon property of the annual value of about 9,500,000l. He, as a ratepayer, applied at the office of the Commissioners to inspect the Minutes; but he found that there was no entry of the proceedings at the board meetings from the 11th of October, 1850, to the 13th of May, 1851. He asked for the manuscript Minutes of the proceedings of the Court, and he was shown rough papers, some of which were without date or signature. On the 11th of April, 1851, the Court had met and made a rate of 6d. in the pound; but that order had not been entered in the Minute-book on the 13th of May. It appeared, indeed, that only rough Minutes, or rather heads of Minutes, had been taken of the proceedings; and the secretary trusted, in a great measure, to his memory to draw them out. On the 29th of April, the Court determined upon borrowing 10,000l., and such was their difficulty in obtaining it, that they were obliged to pay 5 per cent interest; but even that transaction bad not been entered in the proceedings. When he left the office the secretary said, "I admit that from January to the present time no Minute has been entered in conformity with the Statute," This was the manner in which the Commission, which it was now proposed to inflict upon the metropolis for another year, had discharged its duties. He (Sir B. Hall) was at the office for two hours and a half, and eight clerks, the secretary, and one of the legal advisers of the Commissioners, were employed in collecting the small amount of information which he obtained. In 1851, the noble Member for the City of London brought in a Bill to continue the Commission for one year, and giving power to the Government to appoint a salaried chairman; but the distrust which Parliament entertained of the Commissioners was shown by the fact, that a clause was inserted restricting them from levying a rate exceeding 3d. in the pound. In 1852 there was a change of Government—there was great anxiety to get through the Session that a dissolution might take place—and the then Chief Commissioner of Works brought in a Bill to continue the Commission, which gave the Board power to make a rate of 6d. in the pound, the noble Lord giving at the same time a positive pledge that a Bill should be brought in during the present Session to do away entirely with the exist- ing Commissioners, and establish a new Commission based on the representative principle. He would briefly state to the House the liabilities of the Commission. The new works in one year cost 11,750l., and the expenses of management and supervision were 16,870l. In 1850 the debt was 25,900l.; and in 1851 it was 56,832l., although the receipts had increased from 91,000l. to 129,000l. The debt had gone on gradually increasing, and at this moment, according to a late return, the debt and liabilities of the Commissioners amounted to no less than 174,196l. In 1852 the new works and repairs cost 70,546l., and the management and supervision cost 21,000l., or 30 per cent upon the work done. In the half-year ending June last the expense of works and repairs was 31,454l., and of management and supervision 12,000l. He knew that in the case of works of this kind the supervision must be expensive; but works for which such large sums of money were paid ought to be properly executed. The Commissioners had executed only one great work, and that was the Victoria sewer, which was as great a nuisance to that part of London as the boards of health had been. The estimate of the surveyors for that sewer was 13,854l., the contract price was 12,000l., the actual cost was 28,000l., besides which there were claims for compensation amounting to 16,400l. According to the recent estimate of a person employed by the Commissioners themselves, this work, which was originally estimated at 13,854l., would cost 59,823l., or, deducting the compensation claimed by the Duke of Northumberland, 48,823l. He (Sir B. Hall) had admitted that the expense of supervision must be great; but he would now show that the money had been wasted, and that the supervising engineers had either neglected their duty, or were wholly ignorant, for it appeared, from an examination of the levels in this sewer, that out of thirty-eight no less than thirty-seven had not been built according to the design. In another part of the sewer eight lengths had been examined, and in only one of those lengths had the work been constructed according to the original design. Another surveyor employed by the Commissioners had also reported that the Whitehall sewer was in an unsound and dangerous state, and expressed his opinion that there was no mode of rendering any of the sewers between Whitehall and the Thames perfectly safe without entirely reconstructing them. He (Sir B. Hall) thought, then, that the ratepayers of the metropolis had reason to complain that when these irresponsible Commissioners had completed works at an extravagant price, those works were perfectly useless and required entire reconstruction. A return before the House gave a sketch of the state of the sewers laid down by the Commissioners. A survey had been made of 122 pipe sewers, and out of that number sixty-nine were found to contain two and a half inches of deposit, while some were cracked, and others entirely broken; yet the Commissioners were still laying down these pipes, which were perfectly useless, at an immense cost to the ratepayers. He (Sir B. Hall) would ask the House to contrast the position in which the metropolis was placed with regard to the management of matters of this kind, with the position of provincial towns. To elucidate this he would instance the case of four corporate towns in the county of Dorset, and contrast them with four boroughs in the county of Middlesex. He would give the names of the boroughs, the number of houses paying duty, the amount of duty paid, and the population in each of these towns. They stood as follows:—

Houses paying duty. Duty paid. Population.
Poole 143 £126 9,255
Shaftesbury 55 59 9,404
Wareham 41 42 7,218
Bridport 165 201 7,566
404 £428 33,443
The inhabitants of these small boroughs were allowed by the Legislature to manage their own affairs. He would now turn to the county of Middlesex, and exhibit the case of four of the largest boroughs in the empire.
Houses paying duty. Duty paid. Population.
Marylebone 34,569 £76,835 370,957
Finsbury 27,208 42,534 323,772
Tower Hamlets 25,001 25,522 539,111
Westminster 20,146 67,396 241,611
106,924 £212,287 1,475,451
The inhabitants of those important boroughs had no voice with regard to the imposition or disposal of a large amount of taxation, which was entirely under the control of irresponsible commissioners. He thought this was an injustice of which the ratepayers of the metropolis were entitled to complain, and which the Government should take measures to remove. He regarded the proposal of the noble Home Secretary as very objectionable, but it had been materially modified since its first introduction; and he thought the assurance given by the noble Lord that the money would not be expended without some communication being made to the inhabitant ratepayers, was very satisfactory. If no new works were undertaken which were not absolutely necessary for the welfare and health of the inhabitants, and if some means were adopted of ascertaining the views of the inhabitants before such works were carried out, he thought some of the main objections to this measure were removed. But the injustice of not allowing the inhabitants of these great boroughs to manage their own affairs was so monstrous, that he must vote against the instructions to the Committee, for he could not sanction a proposal by which it was intended to permit an irresponsible Commission to levy 300,000l. as a mortgage on the rates of the metropolis, and more especially so as that Commission had proved itself quite unequal to the discharge of the duties intrusted to it.


said, as he had been connected for two years with the Sewers Commission of the Metropolis, he wished to say a few words respecting this Bill. When that Commission was originally appointed, it consisted of thirty-two or thirty-three individuals, and there was a violent schism between them, one party headed by Mr. Chadwick being in favour of sumpts and pipe drains, and the other led by Mr. Phillips, advocating the plan of conveying the sewage by main drains so far below the metropolis that it should not be brought back again by the tide. The Board of Works, the then head of which was the Earl of Carlisle, appointed a Commission of practical men to investigate into the sewerage system in the metropolis, and, if possible, to propose an efficient plan for effecting that object in a complete and substantial manner. When he (Mr. Peto) was called upon to take a part in the affairs of that Commission, the Board was composed of practical men, and he had associated with him Mr. Robert Stephenson, Sir William Cubitt, Mr. Rendell, Sir John Burgoyne, Captain Veitch, Sir Henry de la Beche, and other eminent persons. They at once told the First Commissioner of Works that they could not consent to act, except on the express understanding that they were to undertake the formation of a plan to give a complete and efficient drainage to the metropolis; and to advise the Government as to the best mode of carrying that plan into execution. An under-ground survey of the metropolis had been previously ordered; and although it was not ready when they first took office, they afterwards found it of very essential service to them. At their first meeting they laid down certain rules upon which they should act in the formation of the plan they had in view; the first being, that the whole Sewage of the metropolis should be taken such a distance below London that it would be impossible for it ever to return. Their second principle was, that wherever they could form sewers in which the matter by its own gravitation and by proper flushing would be swept away, they would adopt them in preference to pumping; but that in other cases they would use pumps. The Commissioners bestowed the greatest labour and pains upon their plan, and when it was at length completed it received the unanimous sanction of the whole Board. They placed it before the Government, and they also laid it in the shape of a Report before Parliament; but up to the present moment not a single step had ever been taken for the purpose of carrying it into effect. The Commissioners feeling, therefore, that they were placed in a hopeless position, and that they would only be suspected of incompetence to fulfil their duties, placed their resignation in the hands of the Government, and the Commission ceased to exist. A temporary Commission was then appointed, consisting of men, many of them of the very highest character and talents; but placed in the situation they were, it was perfectly impossible that they should satisfactorily discharge their functions. Without being at all wedded to their plan, the members of the former Commission begged to assure the noble Lord that he might command their time at any period during the recess, and that the best advice they could give him on this difficult question they would always most cheefully render. He thought the metropolitan Members had good cause to be dissatisfied; but the hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) was a little in error with respect to the management charges. He (Mr. Peto) had taken particular notice of those charges, and he found that in one year, when the total expenditure amounted to 122,098l., they were only 21,209l., or 17½ per cent; and if it had not been for local superintendence of works, they would have been only 12 per cent. The fact was, those charges comprised a great many items besides the management of new works. As to the Victoria-street sewer, they had the statement of Mr. Simpson (upon which they might entirely rely) that they could not have selected a better line or a better outlet, though in its execution there had been much to be regretted. The Commissioners, however, were placed in a very unfortunate position. Mr. Forster, who had been appointed engineer-in-chief, was taken seriously ill, and died during the progress of the works, which presented many unforeseen difficulties; and he believed that the parties left to superintend them were not equal to the task. With respect to Mr. Forster himself, as he had had the entire management of the Kilsby tunnel, on the London and North Western Railway, and of the tubular bridge over the Menai Straits, the Commissioners Were surely quite justified in having originally appointed him. With reference to pipe sewers, to which allusions had been made by the hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), he must inform the House that the Commissioners with whom he (Mr. Peto) had acted, had at once condemned pipe drains under thoroughfares and places where there was much pressure. If they wished to see the results of dilettanti engineering, they could not have a more striking example than Croydon. The pipes used there, so far from conducting the sewage from the houses into the drains, had only conveyed the effluvia from the drains into the houses; and that which, according to Mr. Chadwick and others, was to have been a sort of Arcadia, was made a public pest-house. With respect to the present condition of the metropolis, nothing could be more painful. For sixteen hours out of every twenty-four, the whole district south of the Thames was one huge cesspool. Nothing could be the source of more anxiety to the Commissioners than the medical reports they had daily received from these and other bad localities, which they felt perfectly unable to remedy. In the north of the metropolis the case was not much better. While he was on the Commission, numbers of cases of typhoid fever, arising from insufficient drainage, and all of the most painful character, were continually coming under his notice; and the Commission was unable to do what was necessary even for giving temporary relief. The question was, what was to be done? He should advise his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) to take up the question—no man was more able to do so—and, by applying his masculine mind to it, complete the conception of some plan by which the metropolis might be relieved from the stigma which at present attached to it. He believed that a course of proceeding might be devised which would enable the noble Lord to come before Parliament in the ensuing Session to ask for such a sum of money as would be necessary for effectually draining the whole of the metropolis. The present state of things was a disgrace to the country. The noblest works completed by the States of ancient times—by Rome, for instance—were those connected with the supply of water and the drainage of large towns. With regard to the sum of money which it was now proposed should be granted, he would suggest to his noble Friend not to allow the money to be spent without a certificate from the consulting engineer to the Commission, and Mr. Robert Stephenson, that the works were really required for objects of urgent necessity, and that the plan on which the works were to be carried out had been inquired into and accepted.


said, that there was no doubt the members of the present Commission of Sewers were men of eminent ability; but still when his hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) said that they were on that account entitled to confidence, he could not help calling the attention of the House to the infrequency of their attendance. Thirty-four Courts had been held during the years 1852 and 1853; out of these Sir John Burgoyne had only attended six, Mr. T. Hawes nine, Captain Veitch six, and Mr. L. Gordon two. Of fifty-five committee meetings held during the same time, Sir John Burgoyne, had attended eleven, Captain Veitch eight, and the other members in proportion. Now, if that was so, it was evident that the eminence of these gentlemen was not a sufficient reason for public confidence being reposed in the Commission, but that we must look to those who actually did the work. The plan which the hon. Member had so strongly recommended for effecting the drainage of the metropolis was not that which was now proposed. It was proposed under the former to carry the whole of the sewerage of the metropolis to such a distance below London that it could not be brought back by the tide; but by the present it was proposed to cover in and make use of Hackney Brook for the purpose. That, he thought, would prove to be quite ineffectual, and, as a practical man, acquainted with draining, he had no hesitation in saying that it would be found to be absurd. He believed firmly that no one out of that House had the slightest confidence in the present Board of the Sewers Commission, and he attributed a great deal of its blundering to Mr. Chadwick, in discharging the whole of the officers who were employed by the previous Commission, and substituting for them ill-informed men, who were quite ready to carry out all his own foolish designs. Another cause of the failure that had attended the efforts to effect good sewerage was the appointment of Commissions for brief periods. One set of Commissioners were superseded by another before they had time to carry out their own plans. Nothing at all, it seemed, was to be done for poor, miserable Lamboth, much as that district needed sewerage. 1n fact, nothing was to be done on the south side of the Thames, and the Commissioners had had the audacity to propose that, against the opinion of such a man as Mr. Robert Stephenson. But the great objection to these Commissions was that unfit men were appointed. They were mere lawyers, and how should lawyers know anything about sewerage? But in this world there was always some compensating good for every evil. Bad as this Commission was, badly as it was constituted—of men totally devoid of any practical knowledge, as their work showed—yet there was one man who was worse, and to be avoided in every way in this matter. They had known him in the agricultural districts for some time. He trusted that the present Commissioners—bad as they were, having by their works shown their total inability to grasp with the great work they had to achieve—yet he trusted they would beware of Mr. Chadwick. He was a pest wherever he went. He feared the noble Lord had been misled on this subject; he would not say whether by Mr. Chadwick or any one else. What was required was a great and proper scheme to be carried out over the whole metropolis, and not an attempt to effect the object by this sort of pettifogging drainage, which would do more harm than good. He should be most unwilling to grant the power asked for by the noble Lord to these men, to whom he would not intrust the laying out of one single sixpence.


said, that as the question of the sewerage of the metropolis was of great importance to his constituents, he hoped that he might venture to trespass upon the indulgent forbearance of the House. He was sorry to say that the ratepayers of the Tower Hamlets had no confidence in the Commission of Sewers as at present constituted, and he must, therefore, protest against the proposed extension of their powers in order that they might raise 300,000l. on the security of the rates. He thought it a grievance that every housekeeper in the metropolis should be taxed for the benefit of the very few who had sewerage, and it was unjust that rates should be levied on poor parishes, and expended in other localities. Tins grievance would not exist if the Commissioners of Sewers were elected by the ratepayers: when they should be so elected, he (Mr. Butler) would be willing to entrust them with ample borrowing powers. With the permission of the House, he would endeavour to show what had been done with reference to sewerage in some of the parishes in the densely populated borough of the Tower Hamlets. He would first explain the present position of the parish of St. Matthew, Bethnal-green, the inhabitants of which, he had been informed, had paid sewers rates for nearly a century. Many of the leading thoroughfares were entirely destitute of sewers; in that parish there were thirty-six miles of densely populated streets, and the sewers extended only between six and seven miles, so that nearly thirty miles of streets were drained by means of cesspools. Now, in 1848, the Sanatory Commissioners reported, that "any delay in the abolition of cesspools is a delay in the removal of the most extensive sources of disease and mortality;" and, although five years had passed, positively nothing but a trifling work in a back street celled Collingwood-street had been done in that important parish, which, perhaps, more than any other in the metropolis, required vigilant attention, for, in 1849, there were 1,000 deaths from cholera and diarrhœa, principally caused (he would quote the language of his official correspondent) "by the want of drainage, which remains to this day in the some condition as at that dreadful time." Now, was it not lamentable that in the parish of Bethnal-green, containing 13,500 houses, with an industrial population of 90,193 inhabitants, nearly 60,000 should be without the means of efficient sewerage. Surely, some exertion might have been made by the Commissioners of Sewers after the last dreadful visitation of cholera. He feared that it would be found that rates levied on many poorer parishes had been expended in the sewerage of more wealthy localities; but he would turn to the adjoining parish of Stepney or Mile End Old Town: this parish contained 75,000 inhabitants, there were 20,000 houses, and twenty-five miles of streets, of which there were about one-fourth drained, one-fourth partially drained, and one-half entirely without drainage. There were sixty streets having sewerage, sixty partially drained, and 112 streets entirely without drainage. Now, only about 300 yards of sewers had been formed by the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers in Mile End Old Town, although they had by their last two rates raised from that hamlet alone no less than 8,000l. beyond and in addition to their portion of the 12,000l. handed over by the local Tower Hamlets Commission to the Metropolitan Commissioners. Would any person, having a knowledge of local management, assert that if the sum of 8,000l. taken from his (Mr. Butler's) constituents of Mile End Old Town, had been expended by local commissioners, elected by and responsible to the ratepayers, that only 300 yards of sewers would have been formed, or that the parish would have been permitted to remain in its present state? He thought not. With the indulgence of the House, he would refer to a memorial that had recently been presented by his constituents of West Hackney to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He would, however, first mention that the parish of St. John, at Hackney, contained 9,502 houses, and 53,589 inhabitants; but the West Hackney, Stoke Newington, and Stamford Hill districts extended over an area of 11,000 acres, containing a population of 23,000, and rated to the poor at 110,000l. Now what did these memorialists to the Secretary of State say? They complain that they had paid sewers' rate for 80 years; that on some occasions it had amounted to 1s. 6d. in the pound on the amount rated to the poor: that notwithstanding the heavy amounts they had from time to time contributed, they had no sewers within their district; and that they did not, nor did they ever, derive any benefit from the operations of the Commissioners of Sewers, but on the contrary they had been seriously injured by the conversion of the Hackney brook, once a clear stream, into an open sewer for the benefit of another district, that of Holloway. They state that they have no means of drainage other than into cesspools, which exist in such great numbers that the whole substratum had become impregnated with the elements of contagion and disease, and yet this district was rated equally with other districts having the benefit of covered sewers. He would not stop to remark upon this grievous state of things, but would read to the House an extract from Dr. Sutherland's Report to the Whitechapel Union of October, 1852. This Union, he might observe, contained about 9,000 houses, and between 60,000 and 70,000 inhabitants. Dr. Sutherland says— I have made an inspection of a considerable portion of Spitalfields, a part of Mile End New Town, most of the north part of Whitechapel; and have witnessed scenes that would have appeared almost incredible without personal examination. I have seen court after court, and house after house, which in a sanitary point of view are scarcely fit in their present state for the abode of man. The history of populous courts and neighbourhoods may be summed up in a very few words; bad paving, cleansing defective, no efficient drainage, cesspools or open privies over drains loaded with putrescent deposit. There is a high rate of mortality. Preventible zymotic disease is always cutting off its victims; great epidemics come and go at their will, and the ratepayers are taxed for consequences which might by prudence and foresight be averted. Now he (Mr. Butler) would ask who were responsible for this fearful state of things? Were the Commissioners of Sewers? Who were to exercise this prudence and foresight? He insisted that it was the duty of the Government. He would not trespass on the time of the House by detailing the sewerage statistics of other parishes in the borough of the Tower Hamlets; it would be a repetition of the same sad tale, to the truth of which the Registrar General, in the weekly returns of mortality, abundantly testified, clearly evincing how large a proportion of deaths in the metropolis were due to imperfect drainage. He considered that it was impossible to overrate the importance of this question, and he trusted that Her Majesty's Ministers would introduce a comprehensive measure in the next Session. He felt bound, however, to say, that he should record his vote against any measure for perpetuating the present system: it was really too bad at the end of the Session, when so many Members had left town, that the noble Lord should, under cover of a Continuance Bill, ask Parliament to give these Commissioners power to raise and expend 300,000l. What had they done to warrant such an extent of confidence? Had they performed works to an equal extent with the works executed by the local commissioners who were resident in the districts for which they acted? To his (Mr. Butler's) knowledge the local com- missioners had covered miles of open sewers in the Tower Hamlets during the last five years of their existence; and from the years 1838 to 1847 inclusive, the late Tower Hamlets' Commission executed fifteen miles of new works. He did not say that the old system was perfect; but the House would bear in mind that the local commissioners were acting under ancient, almost obsolete, statutes; they had difficulties to contend with which modern legislation had cleared away for their successors; nevertheless large works had been performed by them. Had the Metropolitan Commissioners been more industrious? He thought not. In 1847 a Commission was appointed, of which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex was the chairman; it was called in the Tower Hamlets the Chadwickian Inquiry. He would not trouble the House by remarking upon the evidence; it was in consequence of the Report of this Commission that the Government superseded the several local commissioners, somewhat unceremoniously, considering that many of these gentlemen had been acting in the gratuitous performance of a public duty, and that, had they been allowed to remain in office one week longer, their commissions would have expired by efflux of time; but the Government of the day were so anxious to place the management of the sewerage of the metropolis in proper hands that they could not wait the week, and these local commissioners were accordingly sent to the right-about;—and who were the experienced and practical men that succeeded? The first was an hon. Baronet, Sir Edward North Buxton, for whom he (Mr. Butler) entertained the highest esteem, and he desired to speak of him in terms of great respect; but what did the hon. Baronet know about sewers? and what time could he, being then Member of that House, devote to the duties of a Commissioner of Sewers? Again, there was the Rev. William Stone, a highly respected minister of the Church, the rector of a densely-populated metropolitan parish, conscientiously active in the performance of his own sufficiently arduous duties. Now, if the question had been whether Mr. Stone should be appointed to a bishopric, he would have at once concurred in the propriety of the appointment; but to make that rev. gentleman a commissioner of sewers was really most ridiculous. The House would see that the effect of these appointments was, to throw the management into the hands of Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, gentlemen who had taken an active part on the Royal Commission, which recommended the supersedeas of the several local commissions. These gentlemen were superseded in turn, and eventually the present Commissioners were appointed. Having felt it to be his duty to speak of the past and present management in the language of complaint, he would now venture to suggest a plan for the future, which he thought would be approved by the great body of ratepayers. His scheme was to divide the metropolis into levels. District courts to be formed for each level, the ratepayers in the several parishes electing the Commissioners. The number of District Commissioners to be determined by the extent of the population. The District Commissioners to make rates upon all property within the level for the maintenance and extension of the drainage within their jurisdiction, but not for the formation of outlets. The District Commissioners to have power to communicate with the outlets under proper regulations, and to borrow money on the security of their rates. The several chairmen of the District Courts to have seats at the central or outlet commission. He further proposed the appointment of a central court of Commissioners, whose powers should be confined to the important duty of providing and maintaining proper outlets for the sewerage of the metropolis, with powers to make rates and to borrow money on their security; these powers were of course necessary to enable them to perform the extensive works so much required. He would not object to these Commissioners being appointed by Government, because it was necessary that they should possess great practical experience; but, as he before mentioned, the several district chairmen of the levels should have seats at that court, He trusted that the noble Lord would, during the recess, apply his gigantic mind to the maturing a comprehensive measure with reference to this important subject; for it must be obvious to all that one set of Commissioners could not properly attend to the local requirements of the enormous population, and at the same time mature and carry out a great scheme of outlets for the sewerage of the metropolis.


said, he must express his surprise that the great pains already lavished on this subject had not been attended with a more beneficial result, and trusted that the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department would turn his at- tention to the important subject of the formation of local boards.


said, he had listened with much pleasure to the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) at the Mansion House, when the noble Lord had expressed a hope that the Thames would soon be as clear as the waters of Blandusia, and trusted the noble Lord would take immediate steps to free their parent river from its present pollution. He thought the noble Lord was particularly bound to do this, as permission had been refused to two private companies which had proposed to do so. If the necessary works were not commenced at once, he would suggest that a clause should be inserted to give to some private company the power of undertaking this highly necessary measure. He considered the Thames would never be freed from pollution except by the results of some private enterprise; and he would support any measure which would give to the metropolitan parishes the power of self-government. Nay, more, if no other Member did so, he would himself venture to bring forward a measure which would confer the power of self-government on all the towns of England.


said, he most strongly objected to any such instruction being given to the Committee as that which the noble Lord had proposed. The inhabitants of the metropolis had no objection to make any pecuniary sacrifice in order to provide for the public health of the population. Show them proper measures, and they would do what was required of them; but what they feared was, that they would be put to great expense without obtaining any corresponding benefit. They believed that all the talk about cholera and the public health was merely a mystification, and that after a large outlay they would find themselves in a worse condition than they were in before. He strongly suspected that if the proposed money were taken, the country would be burdened without receiving the slightest advantage, just as it was now burdened with the expense of an Army and a Fleet, which were of no use whatever, because they were never suffered to go where their services were required. So little confidence had the public in this Commission, that he believed, if the metropolis were polled, rather than assent to the proposition of the noble Lord, they would gladly give 50,000l. to get rid of the Commissioners altogether. He admitted that the noble Lord had somewhat modified his plan; but, although what the noble Lord now proposed was a mitigation of the evil, he still believed that it would not meet the approbation of the public.


said, it could not be doubted that the proceedings of the Commissioners of Sewers hitherto had resulted in a miserable failure. He was not indisposed, however, to give the noble Lord the power of raising 300,000l., provided the House had an assurance that that money should be properly expended. But he did not understand that, up to this time, there had been any agreement as to the mode of drainage which was to be adopted. There were at present two systems under contemplation, and, as yet, neither had been determined upon. 300,000l. would suffice to construct an immense amount of drainage, and he should be quite ready to grant that amount, if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Pete) were acted upon, and the money were only to be laid out under the authority and sanction of such able and practical men as Mr. Stephenson and Sir William Cubitt. He trusted that we should now have a properly constituted Commission of Sewers; and, above all, he hoped that the noble Lord would not be led away into putting upon it merely "ornamental" names. It should not be a Commission composed of a large number, or of elements which could not work together, but should really consist of a few efficient practical, able men. Let the noble Lord first make up his mind whether the system to be adopted should be the deep system, or the shallow system; and, his mind once made up upon that subject, let it be carried into operation as speedily as possible, in order to secure to the inhabitants of the metropolis the necessary comforts of cleanliness and wholesomeness.

Motion made, and Question put— That it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to make provision in the Bill, as to monies borrowed or to be borrowed under the said Acts.

The House divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 32: Majority 39.

House in Committee.


said, that he had no wish upon that occasion to enter upon a long answer to all that he had heard. He was sure that at that hour of the night it would be undesirable that he should do so. He would merely say that he was desirous to act upon the suggestion which had been thrown out by his hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Peto), and that he would take care that nothing should be done in the way of the employment of this money which was not approved by the consulting engineers of the Commission, Sir William Cubitt and Mr. Stephenson, on whose judgment he was persuaded both the House and the country might safely rely. He perfectly agreed, also, with those who said that nothing would be satisfactory until some general system of draining the metropolis should be decided upon, which should relieve the Thames from the ignominious duty of being the common sewer instead of the ornament of London. With that also might be combined the application of those side sewers, which in that respect would be the substitutes for the Thames, and he should hope that means might be adopted to convert those tunnels into what miners would call downcast furnaces, so that instead of all the bad air rushing up to the houses from the drains, it might be carried the other way, and the atmosphere thus be relieved from that source of pollution. He thought, upon the one hand, that the ratepayers had had good reason to complain that they had been left hitherto without relief; but, on the other hand, he assured the Committee that the Commissioners also had had reason to complain because they had been placed in the situation, being men of great ability, and seeing what ought to be done and anxious to do it, but they were unable to accomplish it because they had not the funds necessary to carry into execution the works which they knew to be desirable. The only wonder, he believed, was, that those Commissioners had not struck work altogether, and refused to be any longer apparently responsible for what was considered to be neglect, but what really was the impossibility to do that which they were asked to do. He should consider it his duty to see that no works were undertaken which were not in the first place approved by those two eminent men whose names he had mentioned; also, that the works should be of such a nature as to connect places that were not drained with existing outlets; and that all the works should be such as might be brought into keeping and harmony with any general system that might hereafter be adopted. He would only add that he believed there were about 2,000 miles of street in the metropolis; and he understood that there were only about 900 miles of drains. There were therefore at pre- sent 1,100 miles of street without drains; and, as Milton had described the evils of a populous city, when he said that it was a place where Houses thick and sewers annoy the air, he asked the Committee to consider what must be the annoyance where there were "houses thick" without any sewers at all; yet such was the condition of a great part of the metropolis.


trusted that the noble Lord would take care that no money should be laid out in any district without previous communication with the best informed persons in that district. He begged to state that he had voted in the minority against the noble Lord, because he feared that the money would not be expended as the noble Lord had since stated that it should be.


would suggest that the Commissioners of Sewers should at once be directed to have a plan prepared on which they should delineate their propositions, and that it should be put forth in such a manner as to be accessible to the ratepayers. He was convinced that this would prove a great facility to the operations of the noble Lord.


said, that the noble Lord should be careful how he trusted Sir William Cubitt too much, because that gentleman had stated in evidence before a Committee of that House that the Thames was the best drain, and, in fact, the natural sewer, for the metropolis. He would prefer leaving the case in the hands of Mr. Stephenson alone.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Amended to reduce the borrowing powers of the Commissioners from 500,000l. to 300,000l.)


said, he would suggest that the expense of the formation of the sewers should be spread over a period of thirty or forty years, which might be said to be the natural life of a sewer. By this means the expense to the metropolis would be less than the actual cost of maintaining the present crazy sewers. He wished also to call the attention of the noble Lord to the unfair mode in which the rates were levied. For example, the inhabitants residing near Hyde Park and other districts in the outskirts of London, and who were mainly rich people, paid no sewers rate; while the inhabitants of the Tower Hamlets and other districts through which these outlying places were drained, and who were mostly poor people, paid for their own drainage, and the drainage of the others besides.


said, it was the intention of the Commissioners to raise money on annuities in the manner which had been proposed by the hon. Member for Norwich.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported as amended.