HC Deb 09 March 1853 vol 124 cc1349-57

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the operation of this Act. In 1847 and 1848 the Earl of Carlisle, then Lord Morpeth, devoted much time and attention to the framing of a measure calculated to give satisfaction—in a sanitary point of view—to the several interests that might be affected by its operation. The objects contemplated by the Public Health Act, namely, improved water supply, drainage, sewerage, paving, and lighting, were doubtless most desir able to be carried out. But in the endeavour to effect these objects, it created a system of centralisation not dissimilar to that which was so much complained of under the Poor Law Amendment Act. The Public Health Act proposed to bring towns within its operation in two ways— in the case of towns having local Acts or Municipal Corporations, by means of what was termed a provisional order, and a confirmatory Act of Parliament; and where there was not a local government, by an Order in Council. It also provided that no interference should take place in any town unless by Petition of not less that one-tenth of the inhabitants wishing to be brought under the operation of the Act. Now, as the House might suppose, it was not a very difficult matter to induce one-tenth of the inhabitants of a town to petition when they were told that by so doing they would get wide streets, plenty of 'water, and comfortable waterclosets, A petition being presented, the Board of Health sent down a gentleman, whom they called a superintending inspector, to see whether the Act should be applied to the place in reference to which the petition was presented, who, of course, always reported that it was necessary to carry out the Act, or his occupation would be gone. A provisional order was then issued, to which the sanction of the House was obtained, without the House really knowing anything about the matter. He (Sir George Pechell) would now explain to the House what a provisional order consisted of. Here was the ease of a town of 60,000 inhabitants, having a good local management of its own. In that instance thirty-five out of the 142 clauses of which the Public Health Act consisted were omitted, as not expedient to be inserted in the provisional order; thirty-seven clauses were adopted out of the Towns Improvement Act; and sixty-three clauses out of the Towns Police Act; and, lastly, eighty-five clauses were struck out of the local Act. So that for the purpose of this provisional order, clauses from the Public Health Act, the Towns Police Act, the Towns Improvement Act, and the local Act, were all embodied in one provisional order. This order being brought down to the House, and placed in charge of the doorkeeper, the Chief Commissioner of Works, as President of the General Board of Health, then introduced a Bill confirmatory of its provisions. Such was the practice where a town having a local management or municipal corporation was concerned. But other places, which were not under a local Act, were altogether differently situated, They had not the same means of fighting against the Board of Health as a corporation, because they were at once brought under the Act by an Order in Council. According to the Board of Health, nothing could be done satisfactorily without the adoption of their rules and regulations; and he (Sir George Pechell) would show the House what had been done throughout Great Britain. By the last return, dated June, 1852, there were seventy-one towns to which the Act had been applied by provisional orders and the subsequent legislation of that House; sixty-six to which it had been applied by Orders in Council; twenty-three respecting which the provisional Orders were pending; six respecting which the Orders in Council were pending; and twelve to which the Board of Health stated it was not expedient to apply the Act at present. Amongst the twelve to which the Board reported it was not expedient to apply the Act was Birmingham. And why? The fact was that Birmingham had repudiated their interference and the Public Health Act altogether. The ratepayers of that town had already twice defeated in this House an attempt to bring them under the operation of the Public Health Act, and they had since obtained a local Act adequate to all the purposes required. In this list of twelve, the towns of Whitehaven, Cambridge, Ashton, Bath, and Whitstable were included. Further, it appeared, there were five towns which had adopted a part of the Public Health Act only, which were not dealt with as others, and were in a great measure independent of the Board. Sunderland was one, Stockton-on-Tees another, Cheltenham a third. Complaints as to the proceedings of the General Board of Health were made by Portsmouth, Dorking, Bromyard, Worcester, Salford, and Brighton. In some cases the local boards repudiated the interference of the General Board; and, in the case of Bromyard, it was contended that Mr. Babbage, the inspector, had gone down against the consent of the majority of the inhabitants, and that his Report was a tissue of absurdities and misrepresentations. He had reported, for instance, to show the state of the town, that in one day three funerals had taken place in Bromyard; but it turned out that these were the funerals of three old women, of the respective ages of 72, 92, and 95 years. Again, the number of ratepayers was 1,938, of whom 1,266 had protested against coming under the operation of the Act, whilst only 336 were in favour of the measure. With regard to Worcester, the mayor and corporation of that city had sent a petition to that House under the corporate seal, and their case was certainly one which required much attention. In fact, the city of Worcester seemed to have been dealt with in a most extraordinary manner. They stated in their petition that the Public Health Act allowed the local hoard to make bylaws, which were not however to be enforced until approved of by the Secretary of State; and it turned out that these people having made some by-laws according to the Act, and sent them up for the approval of the Secretary of State, that right hon. Gentleman finding himself in the immediate neighbourhood of the Board of Health, handed the by-laws over to them, and received for answer, "By no means agree to them." The petition also stated that the calculation made by the superintendent inspector was based upon the number of deaths that took place in seven years, being twenty-three in a thousand, and that in order to have a good case when he returned to Richmond-terrace, instead of taking the sanitary report for Worcester for the last seven years, he went back to the previous seven years to show that the city came within the provisions of the Act. It appeared further that there was a gaol, an infirmary, and a tolerably large union-house at Worcester, and that all these institutions were included in the scale upon which the inspector made his calculation for the district. The consequence was, that the mayor and corporation, and the inhabitants, were opposed to the interference of the General Board of Health, and that the business of the city was now at a standstill for want of the necessary by-laws. The commissioners of the local hoard not being able to transact any business satisfactorily with their surveyor, had dismissed that gentleman; but the General Board had refused to ratify the dismissal, or to allow them to appoint another officer, in whom they had confidence, in his stead. He would now proceed to speak of the expense attending the operations of the General Board. By the last printed return, he found that since 1848 they had received 18,581, and dispatched 56,742 letters; that 1,279 special letters had been written, and 1,030 letters with legal opinions upon the powers to be exercised by the local boards, and that an expenditure of upwards of 20,000l. had been incurred in letters and correspondence; besides the sum of 4,249l. for the Interment Act, and 10,000l. for salaries and costs of litigation. He believed that the proceedings which had in many instances been adopted by the Board of Health had brought upon them as much odium as used formerly to attach to the Poor Law Board. In fact, they were pursuing the same course as those Poor Law Commissioners, in not sufficiently consulting the parties who were the most interested in their proceedings. He had great confidence in the intentions of the right hon. Baronet who was now at the head of the Board of Health (Sir W. Molesworth); and he hoped his right hon. Friend would take care that an inquiry should he made into the complaints of the parties who had petitioned that House—an inquiry not by the Board of Health, but by a Committee of the House of Commons. Something must be done in the matter, and, in his opinion, the provisional orders should come before the House in a tangible shape, and, as they repealed the provisions of local Acts, should be sent to be dealt with by the Standing Orders Committee in the same manner as Railway Bills. He would conclude by moving for the Returns of which he had given notice.


said, he had great pleasure, as Member for Worcester, in second- ing the Motion. The petition from that city had upwards of 2,000 signatures affixed to it, and it represented that the Act was introduced there under false representations, and that if the local board were not invested with some discretionary powers in the execution of their duties, the measure would prove a dead letter so far as the city of Worcester was concerned. Much ill-feeling existed in that city upon the subject; indeed, to such an extent did it prevail, that if, by breaking the law, they could get rid of the officers appointed, and in whom they had no confidence, he believed they would be ready to do so. Unless the Government intimated that it was their intention to take the matter into their consideration, he should himself, on a future day, move for a Committee to inquire into the operation of the Public Health Act in the city of Worcester.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Returns of all places which have petitioned the General Board of Health for the application of the Public Health Act, 1848, with the dates when such Petitions were received, distinguishing the towns where Provisional Orders have been confirmed, and where Orders in Council have been issued, with the dates of such Provisional Order and Orders in Council, stating whether an original or an amended Order, with the dates of any such amended Orders that have been issued to such towns: Of the towns that have been struck out of the Schedules of the several confirmatory Bills in Parliament, with the dates when they were so struck out, distinguishing those towns whose Provisional Orders have subsequently been confirmed by Parliament: Of the names of any places to which inquiries have been directed with the view to the application of the Public Health Act, without any Petition for the same, from one-tenth or more of the inhabitants rated to the relief of the Poor within such places: Of the places which have sent Memorials to the General Board, complaining of the manner in which the Public Health Act has operated, or of the manner in which it is proposed by the General Board to apply the same to their town; with the number of Petitions for the amendment of the said Act which have been presented to this House: Of any representations as to the expediency of increased powers beyond those possessed by the General Board, either under the Public Health Act, or the Diseases Prevention Act: Of the amounts of Loans for which rates have been mortgaged on application from the Local Boards for the execution of works under the Public Health Act, and of the proportions of private and improvement works of house drainage or water supply, which have been executed compulsorily or voluntarily, and the average expense of such works, and also the average expense and rate of expense in the pound of the works for the supply of water, and the drainage of each of the towns, for the execution of which rates have been mortgaged under the sanction of the General Board of Health: Of the expenses of applying the Public Health Act by Provisional Order, and Order in Council, with the total amount expended in the application of the said Act, distinguishing the expenses of each preliminary inquiry, and of the printing and publication of the several Reports and Statements sanctioned by the Board in relation thereto: And, of the average expense of Acts for local or private improvement, or of Water Works Acts, as taxed by the Taxing Officer of the House during the last three years, be laid on the Table of ths House.


said, that he did not rise, as the President of the Board of Health, to defend all the provisions of the Health of Towns Act, referred to by the hon. and gallant Baronet, or to defend the present constitution of the Board of Health itself. Still he must be permitted to say that the original framers of the Health of Towns Act, and the administrators of it, had been excessively desirous of benefiting the public. The premises upon which that Act was founded were, that certain towns and populous places were in an unhealthy state, and that to promote the health of the inhabitants, to guard against diseases, and to prevent fevers, it was necessary that the system of water supply, of drainage, sewerage, and paving, should be amended and improved. In order to bring about these improvements, it was held that two things were requisite to be done: first, that the water supply, the drainage, sewerage, and paving, should be placed under efficient local management; and, second, that this local management should be subject to a certain degree of control, by some department of the Government. These were the objects of the Health of Towns Act, and therefore the General Board of Health had two duties to perform: first, to put the water supply, and the drainage and sewerage of various places, under efficient local management; and, second, to superintend that local management. It must be admitted, with regard to the first of these duties, that it was a good thing that the water supply, the drainage, sewerage, and paving, should be put under efficient local management. That was the object of the Health of Towns Act, and the Board of Health was the Department in which that control was placed. Before the passing of the Health of Towns Act, there was a great obstacle to the carrying out of these improvements, namely, the expense of obtaining a private Bill. Now, the first object of the Health of Towns Act was to enable those places which required these improvements to obtain a private improvement Act at a cheap rate; and it enacted, for that purpose, that upon the petition of one-tenth of the rated inhabitants of any town, or whenever the mortality of that town exceeded a certain amount, the Board of Health might appoint an inspector to inquire into the sanitary condition of the place. The inspector was to report to the Board of Health, and then, within a given period of time, the Board of Health might in certain cases draw up a Report to the Privy Council, and in other cases issue a provisional order. These Reports to the Privy Council, and these provisional orders, were, in effect, local improvement Bills; the former became law by means of Orders in Council, and the latter by means of confirmatory Acts. These were more in the nature of private Acts than public Acts, although they were not required to go before the Private Bill Committee. In fact, the duty of the Board of Health in respect to these Acts was precisely the same as the duty of a Private Bill Committee of that House towards a local Act. There could be no doubt that, by means of the Health of Towns Act, various places had been enabled to obtain local Acts at a cheap rate. According to a return extending over a period of two years, he found that the expense of local improvement Acts amounted to about 2,400l. a piece; whereas, under the new system of obtaining a provisional order under the Act in question, the cost did not exceed 102l. Therefore, if 2,400l. was the average for each local Act, it followed that the total cost of obtaining local Acts for the whole 151 places in which provisional orders had been applied by the Board of Health, would have amounted to no less than 365,000l.; whereas, under the Health of Towns Act, the total cost had only amounted to 15,000l.; thus effecting a saving of no less a sum than 350,000l. He did not mean to say that all the provisions of the Health of Towns Act, or the constitution of the Board of Health, or its administration, were perfect; and, therefore, at the present moment, the Government were taking the subject into their most serious consideration, with the view of both amending the constitution of the Board of Health, and making certain alterations in the Health of Towns Act. He could assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Laslett) that the case of the city of Worcester was especially engaging the attention of the Government, and they hoped before long to be able to bring in a mea- sure which would give satisfaction both by changing the constitution of the Board of Health, and by making certain alterations in the enactments of the Health of Towns Act. At the present moment he hoped that the House would not expect him to speak more distinctly; but he could assure the House that the subject was under his most serious consideration, and he hoped to be able to prepare a measure which would bring about the advantageous working of an Act which he believed to be founded upon a good general principle, although he admitted that some of its details might require amendment. He hoped that the House would not at present occupy any further time on the subject, but would allow the other business on the paper to be proceeded with.


would only say that he thought that if they could get a cheap mode of obtaining local Acts it would be the best thing they could do, and for that purpose it would be necessary to have the provisional orders of the Privy Council that were now made under the Act put in some clearer form, for the present form made it almost impossible to know what the orders were.


said, he concurred in the opinion of the noble Lord that cheap local Acts would be less expensive than petitions to the Board of Health, while they would be much more satisfactory. At present small towns were left to the mercy of that Board, who enjoyed a sanitary monopoly, and would adopt none but their own plans. Every town in England should have the power of deciding upon the plans to suit it in sanitary matters.


said, he was glad to hear the announcement of the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Molesworth) as to the revision of the constitution of the Board of Health, and the amendment of the Act; because unquestionably the Act was not working satisfactorily, and in the orders made under it frequently matters foreign to the purpose of the Bill were introduced.


said, that the statement of the right hon. Baronet as to the cost of obtaining private local Acts, as compared with that of obtaining a provisional order under the Board of Health Act, was a proof of the objectionable manner in which the private business of the House was conducted. It was, in fact, a greater incubus on the enterprise of the country than the Ecclesiastical Courts or the Chancery Courts, which had been so much denounced in that House.


said, he was much surprised to hear one of the youngest Members of the House presume to say that the private business of that House was not conducted in a proper manner. He had seen great improvement take place in the mode of conducting that business, and it was a most unwarrantable assertion for the hon. Gentleman to say it was not conducted properly.


said, he who was not one of the youngest Members of the House, would undertake to prove every word that his hon. Friend (Mr. Whalley) had stated. A large reduction of the expense might be effected in almost every branch of the private business.

Motion agreed to.