HC Deb 04 August 1854 vol 135 cc1347-53

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, he wished for some information as to the new working of the department, because the efficient working of the machinery of the present Bill would depend very much upon the person who might be appointed to carry it out. He also wished to know whether the "small pipe" system of drainage was to be continued, and what influence the persons named in the Bill as constituting, with the President, "the General Board of Health," would exercise over the President himself.


said, the constitution of the Board of Health, under this Bill, would be precisely that of other second class departments. There would be a President, who would be solely responsible for the administration of the Board, and there would be, besides the President, certain ex officio members, who, however, would have nothing to do with the business of the department, and whose only use would be, in the event of the absence of the President from London, or of his inability from any cause to attend to the business of his office, to do any ministerial act which might be required on an emergency. With respect to the question of pipe drainage, as the drainage of the metropolis was not at present under the General Board of Health, that Board pronounced no opinion whatever upon it. With respect to the gentleman who might be appointed hereafter to the office of President of the Board of Health, he could not be expected to answer his hon. Friend's question, for he really did not know. He hoped, however, and was convinced, that it would be a person of whom his hon. Friend would approve.


said, he must complain that, while the defects in the existing law in reference to the public health had been admitted by Her Majesty's Government, and legislation on the subject had been promised, nothing had yet been done. They were now told that there was to be an inquiry next Session. So they were told always. Everything was postponed to that shadowy period, and in the existing Session nothing whatever was done. Would the grievances of which the people had complained be in the least remedied by this Bill. One of those grievances was that the present Act was long and unintelligible. Would that be improved by the measure now before the House? So far from that, it would be made worse, for those who wished to know the law, would have to study this Bill also, and there would thus be a code of health extending to 162 sections. Another grievance was, that there was no scrutiny established, so as to test the bonâ fides of the signatures to the petitions which were sent up for the application of the Act. That also was left untouched. Another grievance was, that the law was not of universal application—that it was not brought into operation in every town and village in the country, but was applied only where the General Board of Health thought proper. The result was, in many cases, a great depreciation of property, for the moment a town was placed under the Board of Health, there was a rumour that some pestilence prevailed there. It was a grievance also that local self-government was preserved only in appearance, for the 119th section of the Bill placed the whole of the local boards completely under the control of the General Board, so that they could not stir hand nor foot—could neither levy a rate nor even appoint a surveyor—without the consent of that Board, which made what terms with them it pleased, and thus an engineering monopoly was created, most injurious to the sanitary improvement of the country. None of these evils had been redressed, or were proposed to be redressed, by this Bill. He thought the members of the local boards should be responsible, not to the General Board, but to the inhabitants of the district for which they were appointed to act. He considered the proposal of the Board of Health in reference to the water supply of the metropolis anything else than adequate for the purpose required, and he should conclude by expressing a hope that the inquiry which was promised next Session would lead to some better result than the addition of another to the number of Parliamentary "blue books." It would be well to give a careful consideration to the common law as bearing upon these subjects, and to see whether, by declaring the common law, allowing it to be carried out, and supplying what was defective, they might not do better than they had done hitherto.


said, that the Bill gave the. Board too much power over the local officers. Another objection was that it did not give power over the City of London. The deaths from cholera had increased from twenty six to 133 last week. He had no doubt the increase took place from this cause. The mud and filth which was caused after rain was swept up into heaps, where it was left to evaporate. When dry it became pulverised, and was again spread over the metropolis. Now, evaporation could not take place from those heaps without carrying with it malaria, and this was one of the frightful sources of cholera and other diseases. Some people thought a dirty state of the streets was healthy. He was told by a lady that fogs were good for health, but he did not believe it. In no other city or metropolis, except London, were the streets swept by beggars, not even in Dublin, which was the land of beggars. Then, again, the graveyards in the metropolis were most prejudicial to health. Westminster Hall and that House received such a smell from the opposite graveyard of St. Margaret's that there was sometimes no bearing it. The state of things was worst at night, and the untrapped gratings added to the evil. Any one who walked over St. Margaret's might see holes for the rats and dogs. He put his umbrella into some of them. He measured the size of some, and found them to be eight inches by sixteen [Laughter.] This might be a laughing matter now, but they would not laugh when the cholera came home to them. On this very day there were nineteen deaths from cholera. The greatest number of deaths occurred in the filthiest part of the town. He had, therefore, felt it to be his duty to state these things to the House.


said, it was right that the new Board should be made aware of the system which had been practised by the old Board, and of the feelings of the public with regard to its proceedings. It had been said that provisional orders, such as the old Board had issued, and which he considered inexpedient, were less expensive to the ratepayers than local Acts; but the local Acts which had been referred to in support of that proposition, such as the Brighton Act and the St. Pancras Paving Act, had nothing to do with the question. The expense of sending a man down merely to take a survey of Brighton previous to a provisional order had been 198l. During the last five years the Board had incurred very great, and, as he considered, unnecessary expenses, and had only applied the Act to a comparatively small number of places. He admitted that the principle of the present Bill was received with almost universal favour, but hoped that some inquiry would take place in order to show the new Board the faults which the old one had fallen into, so that it might avoid them. No town ought to be brought under the operation of an Act so stringent as that of 1848 without ascertaining the sense of a bonâ fide majority of its inhabitants; but if the present system of bringing it under the control of the Board on the petition of one-tenth of the number was to remain, no place would be safe.


said, he believed that a petition signed by one-tenth of the inha- bitants of a place could be got up for or against any subject, especially if the names of the persons signing the petition Were not to be verified, and, in his opinion, no town ought to be bound by such a minority.


said, that all the petitions presented to that House, complaining of the conduct of the Board of Health, asked for an inquiry into the circumstances of their being brought under its operation, and alleging, at the same tune, that it had been by deceptive means. He wished to have a complete understanding from the right hon. Baronet the First Commissioner of Works, as far as could be given, that the measure, during the year it would be in force, would not be brought into operation in any particular town unless the petition for it was genuine, and was signed by a majority of the ratepayers, and also that before any permanent measure was passed, it should be referred to a Committee of Inquiry upstairs.


said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Bill was not to amend the Public Health Act, but to constitute a new Board, and it would be extremely awkward for him to make any statement affecting the manner in which towns ought to be brought under the operation of the Public Health Act. All he could say was, that when provisional orders for such a purpose were brought into that House, it had always been his principle not to ask the House to confirm them where a decided majority of the ratepayers opposed the introduction of the Act, and he had no reason to suppose that that principle would be departed from. With regard to the other question, it would be the duty of the President of the new Board to propose a Bill next Session for the amendment of the Public Health Act, which would, no doubt, be referred to a Committee, and witnesses examined on it.


said, he believed that very unhealthy exhalations arose from the water in some of the parks. In particular he was informed that on very still nights there was a very unpleasant smell from the water of the Serpentine; that the sentries on duty often complained on the subject, and that the inhabitants of the houses in the immediate vicinity, in Bayswater and Westminster, were frequently obliged to close their windows. He was further told that this smell was caused by a great quantity of putrescent mud which lay at the bottom of the water, and that the evil might be removed by cleansing cut the mud and introducing fresh supplies of water in the form of a continuous running stream.


said, he was ready to admit that the First Commissioner of Works had been opposed to provisional orders being confirmed for putting the Public Health Act into force in towns where its introduction was opposed by the inhabitants; but he must yet complain that after such an expression of opinion in towns, the Board of Health should have insisted in putting them in the provisional orders in question.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Salary of the President of the new Board to be 2,000l. a year).


said, he must object to the amount, as too large; he thought 1,500l. sufficient; he would not, however, divide the Committee on the question.


said, the President's tenure would not extend beyond that of the existing Government; for which reason the salary was fixed at a larger amount than it otherwise would be. The duties, too, were of a highly responsible nature, and even in that point of view he did not consider 2,000l. a year excessive.


said, he would point out that the salary of the new President greatly exceeded that of a Lord of the Admiralty, who worked exceedingly hard, being engaged morning, noon, and night. He hoped, considering the amount of the salary, that the work would be well done.


said, he did not consider that the proposed salary was too much, as the duties of his office would occupy the whole time of the new President.

Clause agreed to, as were clauses up to Clause 8 inclusive.

Clause 9.


said, he doubted whether Mr. Chadwick's length of service had bean such that he ought to be laid upon the shelf if anything presented itself upon which he could be employed. Mr. Chadwick had in many respects rendered considerable service, and might again be employed in the public service.


said, he fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Chadwick ought to be employed again in the public service if possible.

Clause agreed to, as were the remaining clauses.

House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended.