HC Deb 28 June 1858 vol 151 cc572-8

said, that in pursuance of his notice he rose to call the attention of the House to the noxious state of the Thames; and to move "that this House considers it the duty of the Executive Government to take immediate measures for abating the dangerous nuisance caused by the noxious state of the Thames." The difficulty the House was in arose from their having made that a local which was essentially an Imperial question. If it were not an Imperial question, on what principle could they justify the veto they had given the First Commissioner of Works upon the plans of the Metropolitan Board? Or how could they justify the levying of the special metropolitan taxes, such as the coal tax, the duty on omnibuses and cabs, which amounted to £160,000 a year, and other Imperial imposts? Hon. Gentlemen also might point to such towns as Hull, Liverpool, and Birkenhead, where works of public improvement had been carried out at the expense of those places. But those works had not been effected by direct local taxation, but in a great measure by taxes on shipping and other similar modes of levying the cost upon the general trade of the country. At the present moment, however, the metropolis was called upon to execute at its own cost great works of public utility. They were told that they must take their sewage to Sea Reach, or to the German Ocean; and he had no doubt some hon. Gentlemen would be disposed to have it carried still further. Anyhow it was to be a grand work, and to cost money. But bow was it possible to raise in the metropolis the sum that would be required, say front ten to fifteen millions, by direct local taxation? They might just as well attempt to raise the whole revenue of the country by an income tax of from 10s. to 12s. in this pound. The Thames embankment, which alone would cost some £5,000,000, could not be called a local improvement. He was not arguing that the veto of the Government upon the plans of the Board of Works should be removed. On the contrary, he should look with great suspicion on any proposition of the kind; and he considered that the late First Commissioner (Sir B. Hall) deserved great credit for refusing to sanction the plans which had been submitted to him, and which were contrary to the Act of Parliament. The plans for draining the metropolis did not include any scheme for purifying the river, for the Metropolitan Board of Works had no jurisdiction over the Thames. It was the duty of the Executive Government to deal with that question. He would remind the House that what was wanted was an immediate remedy; whereas the plans that had been proposed for relieving the metropolis from the evil complained of would take from five to seven years, in which time half the inhabitants who could not get away to the highlands or the Continent, might be poisoned. He should now move his Amendment, with a view to test the feeling of the House. If the House agreed to the Resolution, he should propose another on an early day, to the effect that the Thames Committee should be made a permanent Committee, and that it should act in conjunction with the Chief Commissioner of Works and the Board of Conservancy of the River, for the purpose of improving the banks of the river, and dealing with the mouths of the existing sewers. He did not think they ought to leave that House without attempting to devise some remedy for the serious evil of which they had so much reason to complain.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House considers it the duty of the Executive Government to take immediate measures for abating time dangerous nuisance caused by the noxious state of the Thames," instead thereof.

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


, in seconding the Motion, said that the sanitary improvements at Birkenhead, which are planned and carried out by himself, were completed without a farthing's expense upon any one except the inhabitants of the town. When this subject was last before the House, he stated that he was not prepared with any plan; but considering the gravity of it, he had devoted last Saturday to its consideration, and he had arrived at the conclusion that an efficient remedy might be applied to the purification of the Thames. He did not mean to say that it would be a permanent remedy, but he thought it would at once abate the greater part of the nuisance. He had communicated his notions to Mr. Bidder, who had directed his attention for a great many months to the subject, and he entirely approved of the plan which he recommended—a plan which he (Mr. Bidder) said was not new, but had been recommended by Mr. Hawkshaw and himself to the Board of Works last year. The plan was this—that lime should be mixed with water, and put into the sewers three quarters of a mile from their mouths in the river Thames. Lime was the only in- gredient used by Mr. Wheatstone in his deodorising process at Leicester, and by introducing it in solution, at the places he had mentioned, the sewage water would be completely deodorised when it reached the river. He did not mean to say it would not affect the colour of the water and not kill the fish, but Mr. Wheatstone's process killed the fish; but at all events that would not be so bad as killing people. If the plan he suggested were carried out, within forty-eight hours the Thames would be in a very different state.


said, he would not enter into the general question which had been raised by the hon. Member for Lambeth, but he thought the House would like to know what steps had been taken by the Government for applying a temporary palliative for the evil. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had told them what he thought would relieve a great part of the evil. He was happy to inform him that the Government had communicated with the Metropolitan Board of Works, and authorized them to use a preparation of lime in the way he had suggested. He hoped that in consequence of the authority so conferred upon them, they would apply the remedy to all the chief sewers in the metropolis. If it should be found that the Metropolitan Board exceeded their authority in applying lime in this way, the Government would introduce a Bill to Parliament for their indemnity. Allusion had been made on Friday last to the state of the docks, as tending to aggravate existing evils. In consequence of this the Government had also instructed two officers of the Board of Health to visit and inspect the docks; and if these gentlemen should suggest any measures as likely to remove the existing evils, the Government would be prepared to take whatever steps might be necessary for that purpose. So far, however, as they were at present in-informed, it did not seem likely that the state of the docks would have any material effect upon the state of the river. When the Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to the Government any general scheme which seemed likely to effect the ends they had in view, it would receive immediate consideration, and the Government would not hesitate to afford every facility for carrying that scheme into effect.


hoped that the measures which were being taken for palliating the existing evil would not hinder the prompt adoption of a permament scheme; especially as he could not conceive but that they would fail. The opinion of Mr. Stephenson, Mr. Cubitt, and other eminent engineers, held that there was no adequate remedy for this gigantic evil than tile construction of large intercepting sewers. There was no help for it—that scheme must be carried out; but it seemed to him that a much less cumbrous body than the Board of Works might be advantageously constitued in order to effect it. His view was to constitute a Board of five Commissioners, including the present Chairman Mr. Thwaites, the noble Lord the First Commissioner, and the Secretary of the Treasury. If the Government would borrow the money and charge it on the rates, he was satisfied that it could be obtained at a very much lower rate of interest than the Board could borrow it at themselves. The sum required would be about £2,500,000, which, spread over thirty or forty years would not add a very serious additional burden to the rates.


said, he thought it extremely inconvenient to prevent the House from going into Committee of Supply by any further discussion on this subject at present. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Roupell) applied to immediate remedies, and not to the permanent remedy referred to. He could assure the House that, as far as immediate relief was concerned, the Government had taken the most decisive measures. They had sanctioned a series of remedial operations on Saturday last, which would require the use of between 200 and 250 tons of lime per day, involving an expenditure of about £1,500 per week. This showed that the steps being taken were of no trivial character. With regard to more permanent measures, they were of too grave a nature, as well in point of expense as upon other grounds, to be conveniently discussed at that moment.


said, that the real question in connection with this subject was, where was the money for executing the scheme of the main drainage to come from? and he intended to take the sense of the House before long upon it. It was impossible that the Metropolis could raise the requisite number of millions by direct taxation, and the Imperial Exchequer ought fairly to contribute. To say that this was not a national work, when men in that House, representing all parts of the country, loudly cried out aganst the evil, while the people of Hornsey, Highgate, Finsbury, and various other Metropolitan districts made no complaint, was manifestly preposterous.


said, he hoped the hon. Member would take a very early day for such a purpose. He could promise him a pretty decided opposition. The whole question was this—the inhabitants of a very large town put an enormous quantity of dirt into their very fine river, and then they wanted the inhabitants of smaller and poorer towns to come and take it out for them. If the local authorities of London had not sufficient legal powers for effecting this sanitary improvement, let their powers be increased; but the people of other towns who had cleansed their own rivers at their own cost ought not to be taxed for the benefit of the Metropolis. It would surely be enough if the Houses of Parliament, the palaces, and public offices paid their proper quota to the rates levied for such a purpose.


said, that the inhabitants of the metropolis did not object to pay for the drainage of their own district, but they objected to pay for carrying the sewage five or six miles below that district. Moreover, if in addition to that the House chose to have an embankment of the Thames with an esplanade, they must find the money for it. He took it for granted that the Government would pay out of the Consolidated Fund the £1,500 a week to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, because they had no power whatever to direct the Board of Works in what way it should expend the money it had raised by rates.


said, he agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Shelley) that the Government could not interfere in the expenditure of the rates raised by the Board of Works. It was clearly a matter of impossibility to levy a metropolitan rate sufficient for the purification of the Thames. It would in fact be a confiscation of property, as the present rates were so heavy that they had put a stop to all improvements. If they had any rate, it should be an Imperial one. How had this nuisance occurred? Formerly, before this stench arose, London was drained in the ordinary manner by cesspools; but an Act of Parliament was passed compelling every parish to drain into the river. The House of Commons had done the mischief, and the House of Commons should find the remedy by levying a fair uniform rate on the whole community. He was satisfied that the various consituencies who were so attached to their Members would not grumble at anything that contributed to their comfort.


said, that the case had become intelligible at last. The representatives of the metropolis had expressed their determination that the metropolis should not pay more than its fair proportion of the expense for purifying the Thames; so, on the other hand, the representatives of the country at large were determined that the country should not be taxed for metropolitan purposes. He should have liked to have had a more explicit statement from the noble Lord as to the expenditure which he had authorized for the temporary purpose of purifying the Thames. He had no objection to the Government giving facilities for a loan under such securities that the nation could never be called upon to pay it.


said, he thought the explanation of the noble Lord the Chief Commissioner of Works unsatisfactory, and he should like to know who was to pay for the present palliative—he feared imperfectly palliative—measures. He was glad, however, to see the increased interest now evinced on metropolitan affairs, as he remembered that when the Drainage Bill was before Parliament it was discussed in Houses varying from nine to twenty Members.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.