HC Deb 04 May 1860 vol 158 cc736-46

in rising to move for a Select Committee on this subject, said that whoever had watched the thoroughfares of London for the last thirty years, must have remarked that they were gradually becoming impassable. It took a longer time to go from London Bridge to the Great Western Railway than from London Bridge to Brighton, or than from the Great Western Railway to Oxford. The improvement of the thoroughfares in the country had been considered so important an object that if half an hour could be saved in a journey of 500 miles, millions of money were spent to save that period of time; and yet people who lived in London and who made an engagement at the west-end could not keep it unless they gave themselves half an hour more than would be necessary if the thoroughfares were in a proper condition. Some years ago a great scheme for improving the entire communication of London was brought forward, which would have remunerated the parties who proposed it. The matter was submitted to a Committee up stairs, but it ended by being buried in a blue-book. The embankment of the Thames would give great relief to those who wished to pass from the west-end to the City. It was not a new question. In the year 1824 Sir F. Trench proposed a plan for embanking the Thames in front of Temple-gardens. A Select Committee sat, but nothing came of it. In 1842 a Royal Commission was appointed, which was presided over by Lord Lincoln, now Duke of New castle. They examined into the thoroughfares of Loudon and the embankment of the Thames. They planned out ten miles of new streets, but, with the exception of Camion Street and a few small improvements, nothing came of that Commission. In July 1844, Lord Lincoln brought in a Bill for making an embankment, but it was not discussed until the following year, when the Vice-President of the Board of Trade was asked if it was intended to carry out the embankment by a poll tax, and the answer given was that the then Government did not intend to pusue the question, and the matter again dropped. The year 1845 was remarkable for the number of railways that were then projected in all parts of the kingdom; but this subject was not taken up till 1854, when a Committee of that House was appointed to inquire into the best mode of opening the Metropolitan bridges to the public. That investigation only ended in the production of a blue-book, as did also another inquiry instituted in the year following. In 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works was established, but it had not yet done anything with regard to the great arterial thoroughfares of London. That Board was, however, now carrying out a general system of drainage, and had in hand the construction of high-level, mid-level, and low-level sewers. If those plans were executed there would be no open communication between the west-end and the City for the space of two years; and the carrying away of materials from the tunnels for conveying the sewage would create a serious nuisance in the principal thoroughfares. The scheme of Mr. Bazal-gette for taking the low-level sewer along the bank of the Thames was concurred in by the late Mr. Stephenson; but, owing to the difficulties it encountered, it was afterwards determined to take it along the Strand. It was the more important, therefore, that the subject of the embankment of the Thames should now be taken into consideration. Various plans hitherto framed for that object had been opposed by the wharfingers, but if the Committee for which he now asked were granted, it would be shown that the execution of so magnificent a Metropolitan improvement, so far from injuring, would much enhane the value of the property of the wharfingers. Morever, the railway companies now proposed to cross the Thames with their lines; and the question of the embankment of the river must be settled before those companies obtained their Bills, otherwise it could never be carried out. The population of London had increased between the years 1811 and 1851 from 1,138,000 to 2,362,000; and in 1861 it would doubtless reach close upon 3,000,000. The traffic in and out from the various railways during the year was as follows: — Great Northern, 1,500,000 persons; Great Western, 1.574,809; North-Western, 1,000,000; Eastern Counties, 2,245,600; Blackwall, from their terminus alone, 5,133,000; South-Eastern, 7,714,045; Brighton, 6,995,122; and South-Western, 4,672,789. So that the total number of persons who passed in and out of the Metropolis last year by the va- rious termini was upwards of 30,000,000; and, although many of them travelled for only short distances, it was manifest that in going to and from the railway stations, they must enormously swell the traffic in the crowded thoroughfares of London. He believed the Select Committee would report in favour of the execution of this great work, and then would come the question of the means to be provided for that object. That was the great difficulty, but one which he thought might be overcome. The Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to expend on the making of the low-level sewer a sum of £221,000, and that would, of course, form part of the embankment scheme. The Board of Conservancy of the Thames were also most anxious that the undertaking should be accomplished, and were willing to consider whether a portion of the revenue to be obtained from reclaimed land might not be applied to that purpose. In his opinion this was not a local but an Imperial question. ["No, no."] Hon. Members might say "No," but he put it to the House whether the saving of time to the vast numbers of people who were in the habit of passing to and fro in London which would be effected by this scheme was not a sufficient reason why the Imperial Exchequer ought to contribute to its execution. Large grants were made for the improvement of various ports in the kingdom, and he did not see why there should not also he a grant for improving the navigation of the Thames. In order to carry the sewage of the Metropolis down to Barking Creek a large quantity of water would have to be withdrawn from the Thames, and the embankment would therefore be required to put the river in a proper condition for the purposes of navigation. The embankment would be extremely valuable in a sanitary point of view, both by supplying a fine public walk, and facilitating the cleansing of the river.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of providing for the increasing traffic of the Metropolis by the Embankment of the Thames.


said, he thought the House would have no objection to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. It did not require any argument to show the necessity of free communication between Charing-cross and London-bridge. No one who had driven in a carriage along the crowded thoroughfare of the Strand and found himself compelled to go at a walking pace instead of a trot could fail to understand the serious nuisance caused by the obstruction of the route, and the consequent loss of time. It was generally admitted that an embankment would be of advantage to the navigation of the river; and the threatened stoppage of the central traffic of the Metropolis during the construction of the low level sewer at a great depth along the Strand and Fleet-street, undertaken by the Metropolitan Board of Works, rendered it very urgent that the Committee should proceed to consider this subject immediately. He looked with the utmost apprehension to the danger that might be incurred, during the formation of this sewer, by the valuable buildings along its route. It was to pass very near to the foundations of Somerset-house, and not far from the foundations of St. Paul's Cathedral. The great weight of the latter and the character of the Boil on which it rested afforded a strong reason why a Committee should at once be appointed to consider what ground there was for apprehension of danger to that magnificent structure, and why the Board of Works should have an opportunity of abandoning their plan for a sewer below the chief thoroughfare of the Metropolis in favour of that which made it the basis of the proposed embankment. The appointment of a Committee would give an opportunity for a thorough investigation of the subject, and of considering the various plans that had been proposed at different times for making the embankment, and of ascertaining whether the rights of the individuals to property near would be injured, and what compensation should be given. Instead of being detrimental to their property, his own opinion was that it was possible to construct an embankment in such a way as to improve it; but it was desirable, before any measures were taken with reference to carrying such a project out, that the parties interested should have an opportunity of expressing their views and of stating their case. Another question which would demand the attention of the Committee would be the fund from which the expense of any of these operations was to be defrayed. He must altogether demur to the allegation made by his hon. Friend that this project ought to be treated as an Imperial question. It appeared to him as local as any other that could be mentioned. It was generally held that street improvement and works of drainage were especially local matters, and if the hon. Member expected to get any grants from the public exchequer for the execution of this embankment, it was to be feared he would be disappointed. It was, however, very important that the manner in which local taxation could be made available for this purpose should be considered by the Committee. The Metropolitan Board of Works would no doubt be ready to contribute largely, as far as the sewer was concerned; and it might be found that some other form of local taxation might be applicable, in consideration of the general benefit to be conferred on the Metropolis. It had also been suggested that private enterprise would aid in the completion of such a work, if the way could be seen to a fair remuneration. A portion of the embankment, for example, might be set apart for an omnibus tramway. The embankment of the Thames would contribute to the decoration and ornamentation of the river, as well as improve its navigation, and he thought, under the circumstances, it was a question that should go before a Committee without loss of time.


said, he had thought that the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works would have relieved the House from a discussion of local questions of this kind, which would properly form the subject of a private Bill. He was willing to consent to the Committee, however, on a distinct understanding that not a farthing of the public money was to be spent in carrying out the scheme. But in order to remove all doubt on that score he begged to move, as an Amendment, that the words be added to the Motion—"And how these funds are to be provided from the district benefited."

Amendment proposed, to add, at the end of the Question, the words "and how the funds are to be derived from the district benefited."


said, he could not support the Amendment of his hon. Friend, because it would absolutely prohibit the Committee from reporting in favour of applying the coal duty towards the construction of this great Metropolitan improvement, which was one of the fairest objects to which such a revenue could be devoted. He cordially supported the proposal for this Committee, considering that the embankment of the Thames, if properly carried out, would be one of the most beneficial and ornamental works that could be constructed in the Metropolis. He agreed also as to the necessity of making the investigation without loss of time, and begged to suggest that much advantage might result from the appointment of a Royal Commission to consider the subject of Metropolitan railways, in order to prevent their cutting up the City in every possible variety of angle and in the most ridiculous manner. He altogether despaired of any Railway Committee doing justice to this subject.


said, he thought they would be troubled with monthly discussions on subjects of this nature unless they would consent to create some municipality that could deal with them on an intelligible and proper principle. The only proper body to deal both with the introduction of railways into the Metropolis and the embankment of the river was a municipality. It was altogether an improper mode of proceeding to appoint a Select Committee to deal with such questions, and then to consider how they should tax the inhabitants in order to carry out what was deemed a very interesting public object. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works gave his consent to this Committee just to play with the subject. They had no earthly connection with it, and the manner in which they were accustomed to deal with such questions showed a capacity which was perfectly remarkable. The Board had no sense of responsibility; and they threw these matters over to a Select Committee, where no one was responsible. The House should decline to entertain such propositions altogether, except in a comprehensive way by a body elected by the inhabitants and by property, which should protect the one as well as the other in all these important questions. He also objected to the reimposition of the coal tax.


said, he thought something ought to be done, but could not agree that Imperial money should be spent on such a project. The right hon. Gentleman did not say positively that no public money would he devoted to that object, and he thought he ought to say so at once. Unless they pointed out at whose expense the work was to be undertaken, the inquiry would lead to no positive result. There should be a Royal Commission appointed to consider the various important questions involved in this subject.


said, he could not agree in the opinion of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) to the inefficiency of Select Commit- tees. On the contrary, he thought a Committee a very good instrument to examine fundamental propositions, and to extract from witnesses those facts upon which conclusions might be safely founded. His hon. Friend reverted always to his own proposal, that there should be a municipal body to represent the whole Metropolis. It was a very fit subject to propose to the House as a separate question, but he could not concede that it had any direct application to the Motion which they were now discussing. There was a body which with regard to these works, did correspond very much with the notions of his hon. Friend. The Board of Works were expressly empowered to raise by local taxation the funds necessary for improvements connected with the Metropolis. In virtue of these powers they were making tunnels, and charging the expense upon the rates which they were in the habit of levying. They had the means, therefore, of contributing very effectually to the expenses of this operation. His hon. Friend had found fault with the department of the Government which, before the appointment of the Board of Works, was charged with the arrangement of the sewers. The reason the department of the Government was not able to construct the sewers was because they had not the power to raise the money. It was not that the Government were unable to devise a plan for draining the Metropolis and preventing the sewage going into the Thames, because the plan at last adopted by the Board of Works was the same plan which the Government thought efficient and proper for the purpose. He should certainly object to the addition to the Motion proposed by the hon. Member opposite, because all matters connected with the subject were naturally included in a reference to a Committee. He was, however, quite prepared to make good the assertion of his right hon. Friend, that the Committee was not to expect that any recommendation of theirs would have the effect of bringing towards the expense of the operation any vote of public money, because he was sure the House would not agree to expend any portion of public revenue on these local improvements of the Metropolis. The hon. Gentleman ought to go into the Committee with the clear understanding that, whatever the cost, no part of it would be defrayed out of the revenue of the country at large. But it might be that the Committee might think some fund could be formed and some mode devised of offering a fair remuneration to capitalists who would invest money in works connected with this embankment. The inquiry, therefore, seemed to him to be one very fitting for a Committee to undertake, and they were not, in his opinion, superseded at all by the existence of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He happened to be a Member of a Committee appointed two years ago to inquire into the state of the Thames, and they had evidence given to them showing what great advantages would arise in every point of view from a good embankment of the Thames on proper principles. It would secure greater purification of the bed of the river; it would improve the navigation; it would be conducive to the general convenience of the Metropolis. In every point of view, it was a scheme proper to be encouraged. The particular object for which the Committee was appointed was of a different kind, and, therefore, in their Report they merely adverted to the circumstance. But he thought the House would do well to concur in the Motion of his hon. Friend and appoint this Committee. This Committee would collect evidence showing in what way the embankment could be made. They would certainly not recommend, he was sure, after what bad been said, any grant of public money; but they might point out how, independent of the resources which the Metropolitan Board had at its command, either by the coal duties or by private enterprise, the work, which would be a great ornament to the Metropolis and a great convenience to the traffic, might be accomplished.


said, as he had on a former occasion brought charges against the Metropolitan Members, he was bound on this occasion to make them amends, after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. The matter, however, was now left in a singular position. The hon. Gentleman who represented the largest portion of the inhabitants of this Metropolis, who were chiefly interested in this measure, repudiated the whole scheme. It was in fact, not asked for by the Metropolitan Members. The Chief Commissioner of Public Works was in favour of the scheme, but then, to his (Mr. Bentick's) great relief, he said no one must expect the expense to come out of the Imperial purse. But if that were so, what was the work of the Committee? He could not share the sanguine views of the noble Lord at the head of the Govern- ment as to the results that might be expected from the appointment of this Committee. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they led to no result at all, and if ever there was a case in which that would happen, it was where its assistance was repudiated by those most interested in its labours. He rose, however, chiefly for the purpose of explaining to the House that the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire was to pin the Committee down by a declaration on the part of the House that whatever they might recommend they must not expect any assistance beyond the local resources.


said, he thought the Metropolis was dealt with in a most peculiar manner. The proposal was that a tax should be raised throughout the Metropolis for raising an embankment along the northern side of the river, for people who came from the remote parts of the country to enjoy. The people of London did not wish for it—but hon. Members from all parts of the country were always trying experiments upon the Metropolis—in corpore vili—and then came upon Londoners to pay for them. It was the House of Commons who recommended the sewage to be thrown into the river. Hon. Members came up from the country, and found the river so bad that they could not go on board a steamboat without feeling uncomfortable, and then they asked that a great sewer might be made, at a vast expense, to carry away the filth which but for them would not have gone in that direction at all. They would not grant them a municipality; the Government were afraid of that, and speaking for himself, he might say that Southwark and the Surrey side of the river would not be benefited at all by this grand scheme. Above all he decidedly objected to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stirling, who had a strong objection to the spending of money upon the Metropolis, but who was the warm advocate of grants in aid of the Scotch pickled herring trade. The proposed embankment would only pass through two or three parishes, or "districts," as the Amendment called them, and on these it was proposed to levy the entire amount. If his hon. Friend could sec his way to the source from which the suggested improvements could he paid, he would support the Motion, but not otherwise.


said, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, as to the inutility of Select Committees in most of these cases. The House was already in possession of evidence upon evidence, and estimate after estimate, and another Committee could but produce results exactly similar. The real obstacle to success was the enormous cost of buying up the local interests of those who lived along the banks of the river. Still, if it were an amusement to the hon. Member for Coventry to sit on the Committee he was welcome, as far as his (Lord Lovaine's) vote was concerned; but it must be upon the distinct understanding that he should oppose any grant of money from the Imperial treasury to the scheme of embankment.


said, the Metropolis was already committed to the expenditure of £7,000,000 on the drainage scheme, and the ratepayers were already crying out that they derived no benefits proportioned to the rates levied. They were consequently not likely to contemplate with pleasurable feelings the present proposition. All attempts at dealing with questions of this magnitude were but playing at legislation, unless a master mind existed to direct, and means equal to the accomplishment of the works to be undertaken, were forthcoming. He did not wish to introduce an Imperial régime into this country, but he could not help regretting the puny, hap-hazard spirit with which our Government shrank from dealing with great questions when he saw the improvements which had been effected in Paris. He had seen something of the accounts and details of the vast buildings which had been erected there of late years through a private source, and had been extremely struck with the order, detail, and accuracy that prevailed. In England, on the contrary, we suffered an agglomeration of warehouses to stand in the way of this vast improvement, and were deterred from action by impediments originating in arrangements dating from the time of Edward I. All that was required was, that the Government would deal with the question in a spirit worthy of itself; and all that was needed was, that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton should carry it out in the same firm manner in which he had carried the Smoke Bill, which reflected honour upon him. It was in that way that Paris had been made an object of attraction to the whole world. It was useless for the Committee to commence the inquiry with their hands tied up. It was decided that they should neither be at liberty to recommend direct nor indirect taxation; and any person who knew anything of the Metropolis must be aware that it would not submit to additional imposts. Unless the House and the Government were prepared to deal with the question in a better spirit, they ought not to touch it at all; it would be more judicious to allow the Corporation Bill, like many other measures, to go adrift.


said, it was of no use referring the question to a Committee, unless the main difficulty were solved, how to raise the money. The Committee ought to be untrammelled in their recommendations, or their Report would bind no one but the members of the Committee. Let them inquire as to the cost, and say where the money was to come from. The people of the Metropolis would object to pay the cost, and why ought not the country at large to contribute to it? His right hon. Friend said that the sewer referred to was likely to pull down Somerset House and even St. Paul's Cathedral. If there was any such danger, it was time, in his opinion, to stop the sewer altogether.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.


said, that he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Coventry, but even in the Metropolis itself there were differences of opinion upon the subject.


said, that the chairman of the Metropolitan Works was entirely in favour of the appointment of the Committee.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

House adjourned at One o'clock, till Monday next.