HC Deb 23 January 1855 vol 136 cc924-34

then rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the Nuisances Removal Act. He said that his hon. Friend (Mr. Williams) had stated very truly that the Bill he had just introduced did not affect the metropolis. The fact was that the Bill could be only applied or adopted under very peculiar circumstances, and therefore it did not affect any particular district whatever. But the Bill he was now about to introduce would affect the metropolis most materially, and he intended that it should have that object. He knew of no place which ought to be dealt with by legislation in reference to those nuisances of which they had heard so much during the late epidemic more than the metropolis. He would state as briefly as possible the provisions of his second Bill. During the late epidemic the existing Act was found to be wholly inoperative. Innumerable complaints were made to him of the inadequacy of the Act; some by persons honestly anxious to carry out its provisions effectually, and others by persons desirous rather of evading the fulfilment of their duty, and urging the cumbrous mode of procedure they had to go through and other pleas as excuses for not carrying out the Act. The local boards had no power, except under order in Council, or under the orders and regulations of the Board of Health, to appoint those officers whose duty it was in every locality to assist in suppressing nuisances as soon as they arose, and in keeping the country free from such abominable evils. When the epidemic broke out, great anxiety was shown by the local boards to do what was necessary to stay the ravages of disease in their districts; but everything was hurry and confusion; there was no method, and a vast deal of expense was incurred in consequence. As soon, however, as the scourge ceased—and he saw this to be particularly the case at present in the metropolis, as well as throughout the country—the supervision likewise ceased, and things relapsed into the same state as they stood in previously to the appointment of these officers. He could state that on the 12th of August, when he took office at the Board of Health, there was hardly an inspector in existence for the whole of the metropolis; and he had the greatest possible difficulty in making some of the boards of guardians appoint inspectors. In the case of Clerkenwell, for instance, he was obliged to threaten to cause an inquest to be held if any person died in a district which had not been previously visited under the direction of the board of guardians. He did have an inquest, and the case was fully proved before the jury, which had a salutary effect in inducing this body to do its duty to some extent. He must mention the measures taken for affording medical aid during the late fearful visitation in a parish containing 190,000 persons, and having property of the rateable value of 500,000l., as it illustrated the way in which the people were cared for in certain districts of the metropolis. On the 12th of August last a circular was sent out by the sanitary committee of the board of guardians of Lambeth to 120 medical men of that parish, offering to enter into engagements with them to attend the poor of the parish professionally, and to pay them for their services at the rate of 1s. 6d. for every diarrhœa patient, and 2s. 6d. for every cholera patient—the patients to be afterwards referred to the medical officer of the district. This was the remuneration offered to these medical practitioners by the authorities of a parish which could have raised 2,083l. by a penny rate on its annual rental. The case of St. James's was deplorably bad; and a special report would be made and laid before the House relating to that sad disaster. Happily there were some admirable exceptions to this state of things. St. George's, Paddington, Islington, Marylebone, St. Pancras, and some other great parishes rendered him all the assistance that he could have desired, and set an excellent example to the rest of the metropolis, as would appear from the inspector's reports, which would also be laid on the table of the House. One very remarkable feature was, the happy effect produced where constant sanitary supervision had been adopted. The most beneficial results had also been attained by the exercise of common care, as in the case of the model lodginghouses of the metropolis. At the Streatham Street model lodginghouses, Bloomsbury, where fifty-three families resided, there were but six cases of diarrhœa, which yielded speedily to medical treatment; at the model houses, Bagniggewells, where there were 175 inmates, no case of sickness occurred; at the kindred establishment in St. Giles's, where there were 104 inmates, there was not a single case of sickness; and at the other institutions of the same character similar results were visible. He wished next to show the House how the City of London had been spared during the late epidemic. He had in his hand the report of Mr. Simon, the medical officer of the city, whom he had consulted in framing these Bills, and to whom he took that opportunity of expressing his thanks for the valuable assistance he had rendered him (Sir B. Hall), ever since he had held his present office. In his report to the City Commissioners of Sewers, Mr. Simon said— In your population of 130,000 there have died from cholera during the last few months 211 persons, of whom 26 were under five years of age. This mortality has been at the rate of 16 to every 10,000 inhabitants of the city. Its distribution among your several sub-districts is given in the annexed tables, which also indicate, through successive weekly periods, from July to November, the gradual rise and decline of the disease. London generally has suffered from the recent epidemic less than from that of 1849. The cholera deaths of the metropolis were then at the rate of 60 per 10,000; now they have probably not exceeded a rate of 45; so that this visitation, measured by the proportion of deaths, has been 25 per cent lighter than the last. But in favour of the city there has been a difference greatly beyond this metropolitan average. Our cholera deaths of 1849 amounted to 728, on which our recent mortality of 211 (since the population is nearly fixed) shows a reduction of 71 per cent. In the former epidemic we contributed to the metropolitan mortality almost one-twentieth of its total; we have on this occasion contributed less than one-fiftieth. Our former contribution was little under what should have been inferred from our proportionate population, if the disease had been equally allotted to the metropolis; on this occasion our share has happily been less than two-fifths of what, on that principle, might have been predicted to befall us. Mr. Simon then went on to say— A year ago, considering these things prospectively, I could not but feel great alarm as to what amount of epidemic suffering the City might experience. Former encounters, too, had shown how vulnerable we were, and it was impossible to forget the well-known tendency of the disease to revisit places which it has once ravaged. But against those threatening auguries at least one good was to be counted. Unlike the rest of the metropolis, the city had a sanitary government. For some years you had been giving care to the physical condition of public health. You had paved and sewered the City, even through its courts and alleys. You had established daily scavenging; you had almost abolished cesspools; you had put water within reach of all; you had done something (little was in your power) against overcrowding; you had set on foot the periodical inspection of houses, with a view to their better cleanliness. He (Sir B. Hall) was now going to ask the House to give such powers to every part of the kingdom, as far as they could be made applicable, as was at present the case with the City of London, and, by so doing, he was sure that they would prevent much misery and save to a considerable extent human life. He proposed to place every district in England under the local authorities, and to empower them to remove and prevent the recurrence of nuisances—to deal with those houses unfit for human habitations, and to provide for the abatement of those nuisances caused by parties carrying on offensive trades. The Act would also compel the local authorities to make out an annual account of their proceedings, and to furnish a copy to every ratepayer. He would also go further than this, and in cases where local authorities neglected to do their duty, left their powers in abeyance, or showed great carelessness, he thought it the duty of the Legislature to compel those local authorities, who had voluntarily undertaken their duties, to carry them out, and even to impose a penalty for neglect. He begged to call the attention of the House to a report, one of the most valuable ever published on this subject. He alluded to the report of the commission sent to Newcastle to inquire into the recent outbreak of cholera in that town. The report was drawn up by Mr. Simon, Mr. Hume, and another gentleman. He desired to bring this case prominently before the House, for it was not one in which some miserable pavingboard was concerned, or one which existed in any small parish. The corporation of Newcastle was described by the Commissioners as not only being "ancient, wealthy, and influential, but as having for at least seven years possessed under its own Local Acts, in 1837, 1846, and 1853, unusually extensive sanitary powers." The town was said to afford remarkable facilities for draining, and that under the Acts of 1837 and 1846 the corporation "obtained complete powers of supervision and extensive powers of control over the formation of new streets and the erection of houses, including the provision of proper domestic conveniences and other important points." Under the Local Act of 1846 they obtained power to lay down rules for cleansing and whitewashing filthy and unwholesome dwellings, and to make regulations for the registering of lodging-houses and the maintenance of cleanliness therein. It was also enacted that the owner of every house unprovided with necessary outbuildings should provide them, and that no house should be erected without them. Powers were also given for the cleansing of all necessaries, ashpits, &c., and for the management of public necessaries, for compelling owners of houses to pave the streets on which the houses abutted, for regulating the keeping of swine, and for compelling manufacturers to consume their smoke. By the Act of 1853 the town-council were empowered to cause streets to be sewered, drained, &c., to make regulations as to the levels of houses, streets, drains, &c.; to order the closing of dwelling-houses unfit for human habitation; to order the erection of necessary outbuildings to hotels and public-houses; to carry private drains into the common sewer at the expense of the owner; to cause the owner of a house to repair and cleanse the private drains. It was also enacted that no house should be erected or rebuilt until the drains were made, and that all manufactories, fireplaces, and furnaces should be constructed so as to consume their own smoke. These Acts were obtained at great cost. And in January, 1854, a commission was sent to Newcastle to inquire into the causes of the late outbreak of cholera. They stated that the average of deaths for fifteen years was 28.6 in every 1,000, and they ascribed the virulence of the outbreak of cholera to the neglect of proper sanitary measures by the town council. In the words of the town surveyor, the Local Acts "have been a dead letter altogether." The powers conferred on the town council by these Acts were also said to "have been allowed to remain wholly inoperative," "no exercise or enforcement of them appeared to have taken place;" and again, the commissioners spoke of "the entire neglect by the town council of their apparently unlimited power as to cleansing filthy and unwholesome dwellings." "There are districts in Newcastle which were more ill-conditioned, probably, than any other districts of anything like the same area in Great Britain." Many of the necessaries and ashpits were so built that the liquid filth. "oozed through the walls" of the houses, and new houses presented the same evils as old ones, and many of them were" utterly unsewered and undrained." The corporation property was said to be, if possible, in a worse condition than any other;. "a great part of their tenanted property was really unfit for human habitation, and should be condemned as such." It was suggested to the commissioners, that the Act was not enforced because the town council held house property. Inspectors had found in one room from 9 to 15, 16, 17, and 19 persons. Cholera had broken out "in rooms in which as many as 20 or 25 occupiers were congregated," which gave but 50 cubic feet of air for each. person, and the stench in the rooms was described as overpowering. No advantage had been taken of the Labouring Classes Lodging-houses Act (1851), and there was no map of the drainage. Only 1,421 houses had water-closets or any drainage; the remaining 8,032 were "entirely unprovided." In Sandgate, a district adjoining Newcastle, it was said that out of a population of "4,600, perhaps not 100 had right of access to any private necessary, and at the very lowest computation, more than 9–10ths of that resident population, besides the casual population of the shipping alongside, were wholly dependent on a single public necessary." "In another district, containing 3,000 inhabitants, there were but one public and one or two private necessaries," and 15,000 families had no right of access to any private necessary. The Board of Guardians had frequently proceeded against the corporation, to make it abate or remove nuisances of its own creation, and the power of enforcing the consumption of smoke had been "left entirely in abeyance." The expense occasioned by the outbreak was 35,000l., which might, the commissioners stated, have been avoided by timely precautions. He would undertake to say that there was no corporate body with greater powers than Newcastle; and, if those great bodies neglected to carry out the powers entrusted to them for the benefit of the public, he thought that the time was arrived when they ought to compel them to do so. He proposed, therefore, to establish a local authority in every district, and to order that such local authority should for the purposes of the Act appoint and remunerate a sanitary inspector, who should be a constant officer, and, in case smaller parishes might not he able to pay a separate officer, it was proposed that the surveyor of highways might also, in connection with his own, hold the office of sanitary inspector. He was aware that various objections would be raised by persons carying on offensive trades to anything in the Act which could be regarded as infringing the liberty of the subject, and he had endeavoured as strongly as possible, by the provisions of the Act, to guard against any such charge. He proposed, as the ground for proceeding, that the officer under the local authorities should ask for power to inspect premises between 9 o'clock in the morning and 6 in the evening, and, in the ease of the person in occupation refusing to allow him to do so, then for him to go before a justice, and state that he had reasonable cause to believe that a nuisance existed contrary to the provisions of the Act, and thereupon the justice should haze power to issue a summons, and before. two justices the case might then be determined. He now came to the case of houses unfit for human habitation, and he proposed to ask the House to prohibit the use of such houses until they were rendered fit for human habitation. He wished to show the House that he had good grounds for the provisions on this subject contained in the Bill, and he would, therefore, read an extract from a report issued in the Labourers' Friend with reference to Wild Court, in the vicinity of Drury Lane. He had lately, with Lord Shaftesbury, visited the neighbourhood in question, and seen the deplorable condition of Wild Court, which contained 13 houses and, as nearly as could be ascertained, 200 inhabitants. The report he had alluded to stated that— None of the basements are at present occupied except as lumber places, and are in a most filthy state, emitting at times effluvia the most foul, partly in consequence of the accumulation of animal and vegetable matter, which is thrown in through the area windows, and through holes made in the ground-floors, and partly from the occasional overflow of badly-constructed dry brick drains which passed beneath the floor, in some instances not more than three inches. There is no paving to these floors. In the houses 2, 3, 4, and 5 the necessaries are large open holes, sufficiently capacious for a man to fall into; they have risers of wood rails, but no seats. Fortunately the rails are fixed too high for children, or accidents must now and then occur. This is one reason why the yards are constantly in such a filthy state. It was impossible to describe the state in which these houses were. In some of them there was actually a sewer running through the bedrooms in which the people slept. He had made personal visits to this and other places, and had instituted inquiries, and all he could say was, that they were in such a disgraceful state of filth or—to use the only word—beastliness that he should be sorry to have one of his dogs sleep in them, and he thought, when they saw that human beings occupied these dwellings, that they ought to insist on the owners putting them into a more decent condition. That these houses were not the property of poor people, but of men who collected high rents on every Monday morning, and who turned out the poor wretches from these places for any neglect of payment, would be seen by the following extract, which had reference to Charlotte Buildings, Clerkenwell. The book contains many drawings. Among them is one exhibiting an attic in a state of repose. Mr. Godwin says— This, if possible, exhibits greater poverty than below. The walls are full of large holes, and the light is visible through the roof. The rent of the attics is the same as of the floor below. It may seem strange that the price of rooms should not vary, but this uniformity is effected by the landlord removing those whose necessities are greater or who may be a shilling or so in arrear of rent to the upper quarters. The first feeling, after visiting this place, is that of astonishment that persons should be allowed to let such dilapidated buildings to these poor people, who really pay more than a fair rent for a good house. The rooms are seldom unoccupied, and the loss trifling. The rent would be 41l. 12s. per annum. The population of this small court is immense. If we take an average of 15 persons in each floor of the houses visited—and this is greatly below the number—we find 60 persons are occupying one house, and 900 are in the court. Something should be done with Charlotte Buildings. Few of the countless throng who flood the paths in Gray's-inn-lane have any knowledge of the hotbed of disease and vice which exists within a dozen yards of them. He proposed to take powers to put a stop to these miserable dwellings; and, also, that after a justice had made an order for their prohibition an appeal might be made against such order after giving 14 days' notice. He proposed to deal with offensive trades—not by any new enactments, for he knew the objections that would be raised to such; and had in preparing the present Bill looked through local Acts, seen the powers already granted, and had only taken such powers as had been already granted by the Legislature. These powers were expressed in the Towns Improvement Clauses Act, and he proposed to take powers for suppressing any nuisance that might arise under the Clauses of that Act. He had also taken from the Privy Council the power of issuing orders, as given under the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Act. With regard to the non-performance of duties under the Act, he should propose—as in the case of the surveyor of highways, who was liable to a fine of 5l. for neglect of duty—that in every case where notice of a nuisance had been given, and no steps taken for its removal, it should be lawful for a justice, on the oath of one witness, to inflict a fine on the inspector or person appointed by the local authorities who should appear to the justice to be liable for such neglect. He wished, also, that the House would insist on an annual account being made by the local authorities to the ratepayers, of the money paid, and received, and of the steps taken by them under this Act. These were the general provisions of the Bill, and he desired that it might, together with another which he should ask leave to bring in, be referred to a Select Committee. He was not aware, as it contained no new enactment with reference to the removal of nuisances, whether it would be necessary to take any fresh evidence on the subject, but, should it be deemed so, he would not oppose it. He was only anxious that some enactment on this subject might soon take place, in order that, should they again be visited by the dreadful infliction of the past year, they might be prepared to meet it with some measure of real and useful legislation. The right hon Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Acts, 1848 and 1849.


wished to say a word or two on behalf of the creators of nuisance. He was aware that they were not popular, but still he thought that they suffered some hardships, for in many cases they had carried on their trades for forty or fifty years in districts at first thinly in- habited, but in course of time the public had come to them, their neighbourhood had been largely built on, and then they had been complained of as nuisances. He knew of a case in which a person, one of his constituents, had occupied for years a strip of land as a market garden; a row of houses had been built opposite it, and he was complained of as a nuisance for manuring; his land in the ordinary way. He thought that some provision ought to be made by which compensation might be insured to parties for removing in such cases.


asked whether there was any intention of placing the burial grounds under the control of the Board of Health, or whether they would remain under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department?


replied that they would remain as at present, and he could not now state whether any alteration would take place with respect to them.


asked whether it was contemplated in the present Bill to establish local authorities within the great metropolitan districts? He knew that there was a great feeling with reference to this subject, and he could never understand why the metropolis should be deprived of the benefits of municipal institutions.


said, that one of the great objections to the system at present in operation in the metropolis was, that there were too many local authorities. He had given notice of a Bill for the 2nd of next month, by which he proposed to create bodies which would be empowered to carry out the provisions of these Nuisances Removal Acts and the other works necessary for the improvement of the sanitary condition of the people of the metropolis; they would also have large powers conferred upon them for the administration of their local affairs.


thought it would be very undesirable that the House should embark in the complicated and difficult question with regard to the local government of the metropolis, without having first made up their minds as to what were the principles they proposed to apply to the general sanitary legislation and local government of the rest of the empire. He therefore hoped some progress would be made with the general Bills before they entered into the question of the metropolis. He could assure his right hon. colleague that he should have his earnest support in carrying out measures for which he had long contended, and he rejoiced at the prospect of comprehensive and effective legislation upon this subject.


asked whether it was intended to give the local authorities power to deal with the question of wharfage in many of the low districts, particularly in Southwark, which were liable to be overflowed by the Thames?


said, the subject ought to be dealt with by a separate measure.


said, the expense of carrying out the alteration to which the right hon. Gentleman referred ought not to fall upon the owners and occupiers of wharfs, but upon the public, for whose benefit it would be undertaken.

Leave given; Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Benjamin Hall, Viscount Palmerston, and Sir William Molesworth.

Bill presented, and read 1a.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock.