HC Deb 09 March 1853 vol 124 cc1332-40

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

MR. MILNER GIBSON moved the Second Reading of the Bill.


believed the Bill one of the most important measures of a private nature ever introduced into Parliament, and considered full time should be afforded for its discussion. It contained most extraordinary clauses. The promoters promised two great sowers to be made one on the north side of the Thames, ending at Barking Creek, and the other on the south side, and to erect works at the termini to convert the sewage into manure for sale; hut, fearing that it might not turn out a profitable transaction, and that they would not get a sufficient dividend, they inserted a clause in their Bill to enable them to tax the inhabitants of the metropolis to such an amount as, after paying all their expenses, would provide a dividend of 3 per cent on the capital proposed to be raised. It was said that these works were intended for the improvement of the river Thames. If this was the main feature of the case, and any guarantee of a dividend was to be sanctioned by Parliament for a scheme which might thus be considered of national importance, it became a question whether this guarantee should not be paid for by the country at large rather than by a local tax; but the company being a trading company, and trading for their own benefit, no guarantee should be given. He was told the promoters would not proceed if the guarantee clause were struck out. On the whole it was a most important question to the metropolis, and, in order to give full time to consider the Bill, he bogged to move that the second reading be postponed to the 6th of April.


seconded the Amendment. He thought the Bill ought to be postponed, in order to give the metropolitan parishes an opportunity of considering the details. He believed some objections had been made to it by several parishes. If these objections were obviated, facilities might be given for passing the Bill; but he could not think it could be allowed to pass in its present shape.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon Wednesday the 6th day of April next."


said, he had been asked to move the second reading of this Bill, and he had not consented to do so without consideration. This was a great public work that must be done by somebody. The metropolis must be drained. A question was put to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether it was the intention of Government to introduce any measure for the purpose of enabling the present Commissioners of Sewers to borrow money on the security of the rates; and the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) replied that that depended very much on a private enterprise undertaken by an association of capitalists who, if he was rightly informed, intended to bring in a Bill to construct two great arterial sewers, one on the north and the other on the south side of London, and that if that project should be approved by Parliament it would render any loan to the Commissioners of Sewers unnecessary. It appeared, therefore, that if this company of capitalists did not come forward, the Commissioners of Sewers would be prepared to undertake this great public work; but he felt confident that the cost to the ratepayers—and he spoke in the capacity of a ratepayer—would be far greater if it were done by the Commissioners of Sewers, than if it were done by a private company. The object of the company was to convert the sewerage into a valuable manure, and thus to reimburse themselves. But it was said that it was wrong for them to ask for any guarantee. That guarantee was that if the profits did not give an amount of 3 per cent, the deficiency should be made up by the ratepayers. It was thought reasonable to make such a proposal, as the ratepayers would derive great sanitary advantages from the drainage. They only asked now for the second reading of the Bill, and they hoped that the Bill might be sent to a Select Committee, in order that the reasonableness of the proposal might be inquired into by the Committee; and it was his private opinion that if the Committee would not permit the guarantee, so great was the confidence of the parties in the undertaking, that they-would carry it out, but he did not think they should be called upon to undergo that risk. The promoters of the Bill did not make it a sine quâ non of their measure; they only asked that it should be inquired into. There bad been a proposal that the ratepayers should share the profits, and there might be a proposal to that effect made before the Committee, if the profits were beyond a certain amount, or it might be proposed that the guarantee should be permissive and not compulsory. He therefore asked the House not to reject the Bill on account of these details.


said, if this were a mere question of detail, he should be willing to agree to the second reading. It was not, however, a question of detail, but of principle involving the right of taxing the public. It was only reasonable to give time to those who would be affected by it to examine the Bill, and he therefore should support the Amendment.


said, he wished the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) had tried his experiments with his own constituents; Manchester would never have stood this Bill. He believed the whole scheme most absurd, ridiculous, impracticable. They were going to empower a new body to break up the streets. Why, at the present moment they were almost impassible. What between paving boards, lighting boards, the Commissioners of Sewers, and gas companies, the pavement was in continual motion. The Bill was "to drain the metropolis." Why, what were the Commissioners of Sewers for? He could not understand how the noble Lord the Home Secretary had listened to such a visionary scheme for a moment; and, after all, he understood the manure would not be worth a farthing, or at least nothing near so useful as guano and things of that kind. He was quite ready to vote against the second reading of the Bill at that time, and not to put it off at all.


said, he trusted the House would be favoured with the opinion of the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department on this Bill.


said, he thought this a very important question, inasmuch as the object was to effect a great improvement in the drainage of the metropolis, and to do that which must be the foundation of any system of drainage. It was evident that unless they got some great outlet at a sufficiently low level to enable the ends of the drains to be discharged into it at some distance from the metropolis, nothing they could do would have any real or considerable effect. The question seemed to be whether this work, which must be very expensive, should be undertaken by an association of private individuals, who entered into it as a commercial undertaking, or whether the money requisite should be raised by loan, that loan to be guaranteed upon the rates levied on the various parishes and districts of the metropolis. He thought the metropolitan Members, representing the feelings of their constituents, would prefer that this work should be done by private enterprise, rather than by money the interest and sinking fund of which must be defrayed by rates to be levied on the inhabitants of the metropolis. He had, perhaps, rather misled the House the other day when he said that he thought this great work would supersede the necessity of any further material outlay. He had since been informed that the state of the district drains of the metropolis was such that a very large outlay might be necessary in order to place them in effective relation with these main sewers. He was told that there were many districts of the metropolis in which to this day there were no sewers, and that other districts would require a very large outlay in order to have their sewers, which were now much decayed, placed in good condition. It was quite clear, therefore, that there was a want of a considerable expenditure on the other sewers, and that seemed an additional reason why the metropolis should be relieved from the necessity of providing by rates for the construction of so great and expensive a work as the promoters of this Bill proposed to undertake. There was, however, a provision in the Bill to which objection was made, namely, the guarantee of a certain percentage on the outlay. That was a matter, he thought, not for the second reading, but for a Committee, and it might be more properly considered were the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee. He must say, stating his own opinion, that if this project held out sufficient inducement to invest a large capital in its execution, a guarantee of three per cent was almost inconsistent with the views which had led them to undertake the enterprise. If it would answer at all, it would answer without that guarantee; and if the guarantee were required, it was an undertaking in which he would not recommend the investment of money. But his opinion was, that the understanding would answer. The point of the guarantee was a question for a Committee; and any difference of opinion as to it, ought not to prevent the House from reading the Bill a second time now, in order to refer it to a Committee.


said, for many years they had been considering the best means of draining the metropolis. Now the House of Commons seemed to object to the Commission of Sewers, which certainly was by no means a popular body. Again, it had been proposed that a Government Board should undertake it, and that was considered still more objectionable. Now another proposal was made, that a private company should undertake the arterial drainage. Now there were great objections to a private company doing any thing of the kind. They had had private companies supplying them with water, and that had not been satis- factory; they put themselves under their power, and had very great difficulty in getting rid of them. But it must be remembered that they had got to drain an immense area, and he inquired some time ago of some engineers what it would take to drain the north hank of the Thames without touching the other side, and they told him he must not expect to do so under 1,500,000l. If this company could undertake to do it, and the ratepayers could he certain of not having any charge made on them, and, at the same time, have the work efficiently done, they would, of course, receive a great benefit, and, therefore, it would he well, with a view to obtain some information on the subject, that the Bill should go to a Committee upstairs. He saw some objection to that, but he thought the matter worthy of inquiry; and if it was to be inquired into, he hoped there would be no delay, because the noble Lord (Viscount Palmer-Eton) said that any Government measure would depend in some degree on what was done with this, and if they delayed they might lose another year.


said, he thought there could be no doubt that the three great nuisances of this metropolis were the Commissioners of Sewers, the Board of Health, and the Corporation of the City of London. He believed the Corporation of London were backing this Bill. He always wished that any measure affecting very important interests should be referred to a Committee; but in this instance, notwithstanding the observations of his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. M. Gibson), he believed it to he a fact that the question of the 3 per cent guarantee was vital to this Bill, because the parties would admit that they had no hope of getting the necessary capital together, unless the House consented to the guarantee. The postponement of the Bill for three weeks would enable the promoters of the Bill to turn round and see whether they were right in this belief. He did not go so far as to say that the measure was absurd, for he wished to see the drainage of London carried out on one large plan, and in such a system the City must he included. Though anxious to refer the Bill to a Committee, he could not consent to the second reading now, as the ratepayers had a right to have the measure well considered.


said, he thought that to refer the Bill to a Committee, which might modify or remove the guarantee clause, would be a great injustice to the subscribers to the company, who had joined it on the faith of that guarantee.


said, that, in regard to the guarantee principle introduced into this Bill, he had been requested by the right hon. Gentleman near him to mention a circumstance to the House—


wished it not to be stated that he had made the request.


Well, then, it had been suggested to himself by his own mind, that this principle of a local guarantee to a private company, which appeared so strange in this country to English Members of the House, was perfectly familiar in Ireland. He could name many instances where guarantees had been required from impoverished districts of Ireland by those metropolitan Members who now protested against the application of the same principle to their own more wealthy constituents. A guarantee of 3½ per cent was given some years ago by the ratepayers of Galway and Roscommon upon the capital expended by a private company in extending their line of railway from Athlone to Galway. Similar local guarantees of 3 per cent were contained in several of the Irish Railway Bills now before the House: amongst others, in a Bill affecting a portion of the country which he had the honour to represent—namely, the Bill for extending the Bandon Railway to Bantry, with a branch to Clonalrilty. In regard to that Bill, the ratepayers of the districts west of Bandon have voluntarily come forward, at public meetings, and agreed to subject themselves to a certain amount of guarantee. Although a railway does benefit the district through which it passes, it is also beneficial to the nation at large. But the Bill before the House was peculiarly-calculated to benefit the inhabitants of the metropolis, whose sanitary condition it would greatly improve. The metropolitan Members who had so constantly advocated the principle of a local guarantee in Irish measures of improvement, and had invariably denounced those Irish Members who, in their phrase, wanted to have "a pull at the Exchequer," now rose en masse to protest indignantly against the application of so very novel a principle to their own case. But what surprised him most in this debate was, that one metropolitan Member, the hon. Baronet the Member for Mary-lebone (Sir B. Hall), who had particularly distinguished himself upon all occasions by his determined opposition to any public grants for Irish purposes, even during the dreadful famine years, had now the modesty to suggest that this London improvement should be made out of the Consolidated Fund. He had looked into the Bill now before the House, and found that the utmost sum which the proposed guarantee of 3 per cent could entail upon the ratepayers, was 30,000l. a year, being, as he was informed, rather less than one halfpenny in the pound upon the rateable property of the constituents of those metropolitan Members, who now so vehemently opposed this portion of the Bill. He thought that, if the principle of a local guarantee was a good one in Ireland, it ought to be also introduced and applied in England. For those reasons he considered that the Bill in its present form should be allowed to go before a Committee.


begged the House not to vote for the second reading of this Bill, with the impression that it was possible for this work to go on as a private speculation, because, in his opinion, that was a perfect delusion, and in voting for the second reading, they would be in reality voting for the guarantee.


said, he had always heard his constituents say they were ready to pay their share towards an efficient system of drainage. Although he did not express any opinion as to the amount of the proposed guarantee, which might be a question for the consideration of the Committee, he thought it would not be expedient to refuse a guarantee to a scheme which would save the ratepayers from expenditure in some other form.


said, he thought the parties who came forward to supply a public want of this kind ought rather to be looked on as public benefactors than as speculators upon the public purse, as they were represented as being. A Committee of the House of Commons had stated that the evils now complained of could only be got rid of through the instrumentality of a private company; and the benefit contemplated was so important a one that, even supposing the payment of the guarantee by the ratepayers was certain, instead of being only contingent, he thought they ought not to refuse their sanction to the second reading.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 111; Noes 16: Majority 95.

Main Question put, and agreed to;—Bill read 2°, and committed, and referred to the Committee of Selection.

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