HC Deb 04 July 1862 vol 167 cc1413-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. It was with great reluctance he felt himself compelled to take that course. The Bill, however, was of a very exceptional character, and came before the House in a manner that was very unusual. It was, in fact, a public measure introduced in the guise of a private Bill, and it was so designated by the highest authority in the other House of Parliament. In the House of Lords, after the Bill had passed a Committee of five, it was referred to a Committee of the Whole House, and discussed clause by clause, and on that occasion the Lord Chancellor pronounced it an opprobrium on the legislation of the country. He should inform the House that a number of tributaries ran into the River Irwell, and the Irwell Navigation Company—or rather the Earl of Ellesmere, who might be said to be the company—promoted the Bill with a view to remove obstructions caused to the navigation by the lodgment of cinders and other matters. What had the promoters done? Seeing that they would have to meet powerful opposition on the part of the proprietors of certain of the tributaries, those streams had been struck out of the Bill. He (Mr. Brown-Westhead) had been asked to oppose the Bill; but he declined at first to do so, believing it to be merely a sanitary measure. On looking into it, however, he saw that there was nothing in it whatever of that nature, and that the Bill sought to deprive a number of proprietors over an area of 400 square miles of rights which had been enjoyed from time immemorial. The parties opposing the Bill did not object to the fullest inquiry with a view to ascertain in what manner the object which the promoters professed to have in view could be best and most equitably carried out. His own personal interests were favourably affected by the Bill, but he considered it his duty to protect the interests of hundreds of riparian proprietors higher up the streams, whose ancient prescriptive rights were interfered with in a manner which was never before authorized by private legislation. Under all the circumstances, he believed he acted perfectly right in opposing the Bill. He did not think the House should receive a Bill which had public objects, but which came on in the guise of a private measure, and which vested in the hands of the principal promoter powers which he did not think Parliament would sanction. The Bill was promoted by a navigation company, who, by adopting the steps they had taken, sought to avoid the Standing Orders which related to public measures, and which railway companies had invariably to be bound by. A great principle was involved in the question, and he trusted, that if the measure was allowed to go further, its provisions would be made so far equitable and fair that the House could approve of it, and that the whole community would be benefited by it.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


said, that no doubt the Bill was of a very extraordinary character. It was hard on a cursory glance to discern any features which could distinguish it from a public measure. It was a very unusual thing to affect by private legislation the interests of large towns and manufacturing populations. The Bill set out by professing that such was its object; and when its provisions were examined, it would be found that the interest of the great manufacturing places on the rivers Mersey and Irwell were seriously affected. Another peculiarity of the measure was that it did not appear on the face of it by whom it was promoted. The question, then, which the House had decide was, whether it was a public or a private Bill. If it was the former, the Order for its Second Reading should be discharged. If, on the contrary, it was a private measure, cases of individual hardship ought not to be considered in Committee of the Whole House, but were proper matters for investigation and inquiry before a Select Committee. The measure originated in the House of Lords as a private Bill; in that form it underwent a rigid scrutiny there, and as a private Bill it had come down to that House. The Navigation Company, who really promoted the Bill, complained that in consequence of the acts of certain parties, over whom they had no control, the powers conferred on them by the Act of Parliament were seriously interfered with, and the navigation obstructed. On the other hand, it was said that the obstructions referred to were caused in the legitimate exercise of trade by manufacturers, mine owners, and quarry proprietors, who deposited certain materials in the tributaries of the river; and that if they were wrong-doers, they were not wanton wrong-doers. The questions arising out of that state of circumstances were proper subjects for investigation by a Committee upstairs. He considered that a clause should be added to the Bill, if it were allowed to proceed further, providing that nothing contained in it should exempt it from the provisions of any future Act relating to the navigation of rivers. Technically, the Bill might be considered a private Bill, and should therefore be referred to a Committee upstairs; but there was one grave objection to the measure, which he should refer to. It was this:—In the original draught of the Bill all the tributaries of the Mersey and the Irwell were included in the operation of the Act. In consequence of the opposition of certain parties, some of those tributaries had been omitted. But if the proprietors on any of the tributaries were wrong-doers, those who acted similarly on the other streams were wrongdoers also. It was competent to the Committee upstairs to restore the Bill to its original form; and if on its return he found that such a course had not been adopted, he reserved to himself the right to move that it be referred to a Committee of the Whole House, with a view to ascertain whether in their opinion it was a proper measure to pass with its present partial application.


said, he thought that there was a necessity for some such measure, and he hoped it would be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he considered that the Bill should be made applicable to the entire of the tributaries, and he had not been aware that it was not. That matter, and the other questions referred to, could be dealt with by a Committee upstairs.


said, that the Bill appeared to be a very objectionable measure, and it was rendered more objectionable still by the manner in which it was introduced and subsequently dealt with. The riparian proprietors were sought to be made subject to penal provisions for exercising certain rights over their own property. If a nuisance existed, there were other means of remedying the evil. The Bill, if it were allowed to proceed further, should certainly be made universally applicable; but it was highly inconvenient that a measure which was public and penal in its provision and enactments should be introduced as a private Bill. He therefore considered it his duty to oppose the second reading.


said, he also should oppose the second reading. He considered it highly objectionable and unjust that parties who were in a similar position to those against whom the measure was aimed should be excluded from its operation.


said, that several Bills of a similar nature had been considered private Bills. The general commerce of the country required that the navigation of the river Mersey should be kept open and unobstructed. He hoped the House would agree to send the Bill to a Select Committee; and if on its return it was found that the proprietors on all the tributary streams were not included in its provisions, he would support a Motion to add clauses which would have the effect of extending its operation to them.


said, it would be most unfair to deprive the proprietors of their rights without compensation. He thought a Committee ought to be appointed to investigate the whole question, and should vote against the second reading if his hon. Friend pressed his Amendment.


said, it must be admitted that there was a very considerable evil for which a remedy ought to be applied. The evil, however, was not general, but only affected a particular locality. Nevertheless, when an opportunity was presented to them of putting an end to the inconvenience, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Massey) that it would be unwise not to avail themselves of it.


said, that every mill that was erected increased the evil, by silting up the river. He therefore hoped the House would read the Bill a second time.


said, the question was who should provide the funds for effecting a public benefit. The measure was an attempt of parties to guard their interests at the public expense.


said, he could not agree with the argument that they ought to reject the Bill because it invaded private rights. All private Bills did that. He thought there was no more competent tribunal to inquire into questions of the kind than a Select Committee. Although he entertained grave objections to the Bill, he did not think these would warrant him in refusing to send a Bill to a Select Committee.


said, he was of opinion that the Bill did not go far enough. He hoped to see it restored to the shape in which it was originally introduced, so that its operation would extend to all the tributaries referred to.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 97; Noes 48: Majority 49.

Bill read 2°.


said, he would then move that Standing Order, No. 8, be suspended, and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of fifteen Members, with power to inquire into the causes of the pollution and obstruction of the rivers Mersey and Irwell and their tributaries, and into the best means of preventing and remedying the evils arisin from such pollution and obstruction.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Standing Order, No. 8, be suspended in the case of the said Bill."


said, that if a Committee of fifteen was appointed, his constituents would not have an opportunity of being heard in opposition to certain of the provisions of the Bill to which they objected.


said, the Motion was, in effect, to reverse the order of proceeding with regard to private Bills, inasmuch as the House had specially appointed Committees for entertaining questions of the kind.


observed, that he was anxious that all parties should be heard before the Committee; and he wished to ask the Speaker whether that course could not be adopted if his Motion was carried.


replied, that it would be necessary to obtain the permission of the House for the purpose contemplated by the hon. Member.


said, that recent experience—he alluded to the Thames Embankment Committee—afforded no recommendation to the House to alter their usual course.


said, he would withdraw his Motion, as it was his belief that everything would be done to obtain a competent Select Committee of five to consider the provisions of the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn; Bill committed.