HC Deb 09 July 1858 vol 151 cc1165-71

said, he wished to move as an Amendment to the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair. That this House is of opinion that the cost of the purification of the river Thames in the vicinity of the metropolis should be borne by the Consolidated Fund and the metropolitan ratepayers in equal proportions. He understood that there was a strong feeling against his Motion, but he thought he was justified in asking the country to bear one portion of the expense of the metropolitan drainage, as in his opinion the inhabitants of London had not received justice or fair play at the hands of Parliament and the Government. The Corporation of the City had long been empowered to raise large sums from the entire metropolis in the shape of a coal-tax and metage dues, from which the inhabitants of London at large derived no adequate return. Of the 1s. 1d. per ton levied on coals the Corporation retained 4d. the remaining 9d. being applied in any manner which the Government thought fit. By this means nearly £2,000,000 of money had been taken out of the pockets of the inhabitants. The sanitary laws passed for the metropolis also, had inflicted heavy injury upon it. Some years ago they went sanitary mad, when all sorts of Boards were created, and amongst others the Metropolis Local Management Act had created the new Board of Works, and given to it the charge of the main drainage of London; but though the task of purifying the Thames had been thrown upon that body the powers requisite for its execution had been denied to them. A plan had been proposed for cleansing the river which would not cost more than £2,500,000; but the Government had interposed to prevent it from being carried out, and had insisted that if the work were to be done at all an outlay of seven, or nine, or even eleven millions should be made upon it. It was clear that if the metropolis was to supply the whole of the money it ought to have the right of deciding upon the scheme to be adopted, together with the entire control of the expenditure. The nation at large was equally interested in the removal of this nuisance with the metropolis itself; and as the state had offered obstructions to the remedy of the evil, and also aggravated its intensity, he now called upon Parliament to come forward and contribute towards the cost of this important work.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House is of opinion that the cost of the purification of the River Thames in the vicinity of the Metropolis, should be borne by the Consolidated Fund and the Metropolitan Ratepayers in equal proportions," instead thereof.


had been asked to second the Motion, and he never declined a brief unless for special reason. He hoped his advocacy might be useful, because everybody knew that neither individually nor through the influence of constituents he had any interest in the decision. He felt confident that the friends in the provinces with whom he had acted, not altogether without success, would take a favourable view of the principle contained in the Resolution. If an invading army attacked the metropolis, it would not be urged that the provinces ought not to assist. In like manner the danger of the Thames came here because it was the metropolis, because it was a collection of interests from the whole country. All human life ought to be a reciprocation of benefits. The time might come when provincial interests would look to the metropolis for assistance, and he was sure it would not be in vain. The necessity was of enormous magnitude, for it was a question of no less than conveying all the sewage of the metropolis into the Thames at a point sufficiently distant to enable it to be done at high and not at low water. He was surprised at the way this particnlar point had been lost sight of, in what had been heard in the House. Call a Committee of watermen and ask them whether, if a man fell overboard at high water at Woolwich, they would ever look for bins at London Bridge; and whether, if he fell in at any time much removed from high water, they would not. Instead of this, the sewage of all kinds was diligently poured into the river at low water, when in the nature of things it could do nothing but be bandied up and down under the noses of the citizens, every portion finding its way at some remote time or other into the sea, but leaving a certain maximum of foulness, like a man who never washes himself and so the dirt sticks to him till it begins to fall off of itself. He should be glad if the industrial interests in the provinces would listen to an ancient friend, and show their liberal spirit as they had done before; and assuredly the gratitude of the City of London on some coming peril, would not be a bad investment.


said, he did not see why the country generally should be called upon to bear the burden of the improvement of the metropolis. If the metropolis had been injured by previous legislation, that might be a good reason for correcting such legislation, but it was no ground whatever for throwing the local burdens of the metropolis upon the whole country. In fact, the entire question resolved itself into this—that the metropolitan public wanted the rest of the country to contribute towards the expense of improving the metropolis. He was ready to admit the importance and dignity of the metropolis as being the seat of the Court and Legislature, but he must contend that every man coming from the country paid indirectly towards the rates of the metropolis. Supposing the case of a plague in the town, the great losers would be the permanent residents, who would be deprived of the enormous sums of money annually spent therein by those who had no local interests. The Health of Towns Act rendered it imperative on every town in the country to defray the expense of its own cleansing, and why should London be an exception to so excellent a rule? If any other town in the kingdom were to ask the country at large to relieve it of its local burdens, the thing would be generally scouted. If then, such a demand ought not to be made by any other place, à fortiori it came with a bad grace from London, which enjoyed the advantage of having a large influx of visitors from all parts of the kingdom. Every hon. Member who voted a shilling for this purpose from the public funds would be doing a direct wrong to his constituents, and he trusted he should never see hon. Members so neglectful of their duty as to vote away the public money in this reckless manner.


pointed out that the Motion was informal, because, by the Standing Orders of the House, all grants of public money ought to be preceded by a recommendation from the Crown, and be considered in the first instance by a Committee of the whole House. On this ground, without reference to the principle of the Resolution, he must vote against it. The House ought not to go on with the discussion, but—as the Government had intimated that the subject was under their consideration, and they were about to introduce a measure—should wait until they had made a distinct proposition with regard to it. The late Government had been applied to by the Metropolitan Board of Works for an advance on behalf of their plan of main drainage; but the Government had no legal power to make any large advance of money for such a purpose. It then remained for the Commissioners to endeavour to borrow on the security of the metropolitan rates; but it was soon found that their borrowing powers, as given in their Act, were defective. It was well known that the whole of the creditors of the State, whether they had lent their money long ago or but yesterday, stood upon precisely the same footing in respect to their rights. This principle was extended to the Act under which the Board of Works acted. The consequence was that the insurance offices and other societies would not make advances to such a body as the Board of Works, because the loans would not be secured by a priority of right. The borrowing powers of that Board were therefore comparatively inoperative. The late Government, however, would not give a final answer to the application made to them by the Board of Works until they saw what plan was ultimately decided on.


said, that if his hon. Colleague was wrong in point of form, the sooner the discussion was stopped the better. The Resolution, however, did not impose a burden on the Consolidated Fund, but merely declared that a contribution from that source was desirable. The metropolitan police were partly maintained out of the Consolidated Fund; and as Parliament and the State contributed to the stench of the Thames, surely they ought to contribute towards its purification.


said, that the House had wisely guarded the grant of public money by Rules and Standing Orders; and it had directed that no Motion for a grant of public money should be proceeded with which had not first been recommended by the Crown, and had been introduced in Committee of the Whole House. But the Standing Orders went further, and provided that, if any Motion imposing a charge upon the people were made, the consideration of it could not be at once entered upon, but must be deferred until such future day as the House shall think fit to appoint. There were indeed precedents in which the House had given an expression of its opinion that a certain Vote of public money should be made; but it remained for the House to decide how far such intimations of opinion should bind it in the future course which it might adopt. Such intimations certainly created no new charge on the public, but they led to no practical result, and the whole question had to be begun again de novo, and to pass through all the forms of the House.


trusted that the House would accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Radnor. It was the intention of the Government on an early day, and certainly during the next week, to introduce a measure for insuring the purification of the river Thames; and when that measure was before the House, the legitimate opportunity would offer for this discussion. He hoped, therefore, that the Committee of Supply would be at o proceeded with.


, having ventured on a former occasion to express a hope that the House would in some manner indicate its opinion on this subject before the Session closed, now entirely concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government, having intimated their intention to bring forward a measure, it would be most inconvenient to continue that discussion.


said, that on behalf of many Irish Members who could not attend next week, as well as on behalf of many English Members who would then be absent at the assizes, be rose to beg the Government to give some indication of the outlines of their measure now. This Motion was a most extraordinary one, and he trusted the House would at once go to a division upon it, and mark it with their emphatic condemnation. It would be much cheaper for them to build a new House in Hyde Park or at Oxford than to pay out of the national funds for the purification of the Thames. The Government had better take the opinion of an architect as to the erection of an edifice in which Parliament could sit during the pestilential season of the Thames. Every argument used in favour of taxing the public for the benefit of London would equally apply to the case of Dublin, where the Court of the Lord Lieutenant, the courts of law, and the public offices were concentrated, and where during the summer months the state of the Liffey was nearly as bad as that of the Thames. The Corporation of London had long acted as the Conservators of the Thames, and were jealous as well as proud of their functions. [An hon. MEMBER: No, they are ashamed of them.] Having kept the river for many years in a condition that was so disgraceful, what right had they to call upon the whole country to pay for the results of their own misconduct? The people of Dublin, of Edinburgh, or of Oxford would, he was satisfied, be glad to accommodate Parliament with a place of meeting.


said, he quite concurred in the opinion that it would be of great advantage if the Government had an expression of the House's opinion on this subject before bringing in their promised measure. The House ought not to allow this Motion to be withdrawn, but should insist upon negativing it in a way that would give the Chancellor of the Exchequer to understand that they would not consent to a farthing of the public money being voted for metropolitan improvements. Since the heat of the weather had abated, the bad smell from the river had very much diminished. They might, therefore, discuss this question free from the influence of panic. The medical authorities admitted, though apparently with a feeling akin to regret, that this nuisance had not affected the public health to any appreciable degree.


said, he thought, after the announcement just made by the Government, that it would be improper to vote on an abstract proposition like the one before the House. The metropolis ought to pay for its own cleansing and drainage, but when the scheme exceeded those limits, the question was, whether London ought not to be assisted by the nation.


suggested, that a contribution might be made from the Consolidated Fund equivalent to the proportion of the rates for metropolitan improvements which would fall upon the public property situated there.


said, he wished the Resolution to be withdrawn; but, at the same time, he hoped that the Government would not adopt any particular plan until it had been decided who was to pay for its execution.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had stated that the Government were prepared, not with a plan but with a measure, which they desired to introduce at the earliest possible moment.


said, he would beg leave to withdraw his Resolution, of which he had given notice before the Government had intimated their intention to bring in a measure.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.