HC Deb 28 February 1865 vol 177 cc832-45

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the Committee which sat last year on the sewage question received a large amount of evidence, and several schemes were brought under their notice. He (Sir William Russell) sat upon that Committee, and after carefully investigating the whole subject, the conviction at which he arrived was that the only practical scheme was the one which proposed to utilize the sewage of the metropolis by by gravitation alone. There were other schemes, some of which suggested pumping, others the use of tanks; but the evidence tended to show that wherever pumps had been used, even to a small degree, the expenses had been so enormous that they had to abandon this plan and ultimately resort to gravitation. At Croydon they lost £10,000 by the use of tanks and other means, and at last had to resort to gravitation. In his opinion, the only practical scheme before them was the one sanctioned by the Metropolitan Board of Works; and believing this he appeared in this House to advocate the adoption of the present Bill. He could not but believe that every Member of the House was fully impressed with the local and national importance of this question. It was locally important because it had become necessary for the health of the metropolis that some measures should be taken for removing from the Thames, and, if possible, for utilizing the sewage. Formerly it used to pass into the river in different parts and in small quantities, and it was even then very injurious; but it was now still more injurious, because it had all been concentrated at Barking. After having spent vast sums of money in connection with this question, the Metropolitan Board had now brought the sewage down to Barking, and unless steps were taken to carry it on from there, and, if possible, to utilize it, there would be great danger and injury to the metropolis. There should be no delay, it was absolutely necessary that whatever steps were taken should be taken at once. He could not commend too highly the noble Lord who presided over the Committee of last year (Lord Robert Montagu) for the part he had taken and for the Bill he had introduced to deal with the general subject of the pollution of rivers. The metropolis and the Thames, however, formed a distinct case from that of other parts of the county. In other districts they had the proper points of outfall to determine, the rights of fisheries, and numerous other questions to consider; but with the metropolis they had a result arrived at, and this was the natural and necessary corollary to it. The Metropolitan Board, with the concurrence of the City of London, had deposited the whole of the sewage at Barking, and from there it was absolutely necessary that it should be removed. The considerations involved in any country case did not, therefore, arise in the consideration of the metropolis. In judging of this question there were three points to which he wished to direct the attention of the House, and these were the primary principles which should be kept in view in dealing with the sewage of the metropolis. The first point was to divert the sewage from the Thames; the second was to render it innocuous by its application to growing crops; and the third was, how they were to realize the greatest amount of money for the ratepayers of the metropolis, and as compensation for the risk of those who undertook the experiment. He believed no one disputed the necessity of the first two points. The scheme now before the House proposed to fulfil all three requirements, to remove the sewage from the Thames, not at any cost to the inhabitants of the metropolis, but it was proposed that they should receive half of any profits that might arise. If the scheme were not a profitable one for the promoters, at any rate the inhabitants of the metropolis would be gainers, for one thing was certain—that the sewage, after it had once left the Thames, could never return; it was carried away forty miles, and then sent into the sea if it could not be made profitable. That, he considered, must fulfil the first requirement. He hoped they would, however, see it used most profitably on its journey. When, therefore, the inhabitants of the metropolis were told that the sewage would be carried forty miles away and the Thames effectually purified, and that this was not to be done at their cost, and that if there was any profit they were to receive one-half, he thought they must see the advantage of this scheme. With regard to the second point, as to rendering it innocuous by utilizing it on growing crops, the scheme now before the House proposed to make a number of openings in the large culvert by which it would be carried down to Barking, to enable farmers, if willing to take the sewage, to obtain it. This plan would command an area of 80,000 acres, and farmers would be able to receive it in those seasons when it would be most profitable to them. The great difficulty of the question was in dealing with the everyday supply of the other seasons of the year to utilize that and make that profitable—for the House must remember that as there were 10,000,000 cubic feet of liquid passing down the ten-foot culvert every day, provision must be made for it at all times, and during the winter when the farmers were unable or unwilling to receive it. Moreover, during wet weather, when the farmers were unwilling to receive it, the supply was the largest, and it was absolutely necessary to find means to utilize it during these times. This scheme proposed a means of utilizing it to a profit during that period; and that was by employing it in converting 8,000 acres of sea sand into grass land similar to the Craigentinny meadows near Edinburgh. About the necessity of the first two requirements there was no dispute—and this scheme, he believed, fully satisfied both these—and the only point was the third one, as to how they were to realize the greatest possible money value. There were two methods proposed, The one proposed by the scheme now before the House, and the other a scheme for pumping to Hampstead, Highgate, and Harrow, and from there using the hose-and-jet system over a large area—500,000 acres—which scheme was supported by the authorities of the City of London. Both these schemes were before the Committee of last year, and they were most carefully investigated; and he thought it was pretty clearly shown to that Committee that wherever the hose-and-jet and pumping systems had been used it had been found so enormously expensive that it had been abandoned. The late Duke of Northumberland tried it, and had to abandon the scheme because of its great expense. At Croydon they found the gravitation system the only profitable one, and they are now realizing a large return by adopting that principle. The country traversed by the culvert proposed in this scheme was much more suitable for the purpose than that selected by the scheme of the City of London. There would be strong objections in thickly-populated districts like Hampstead and Harrow, to make the open ground there a receptacle for the sewage; and it was only in a thinly-populated district like Essex that it could be used without exciting opposition. The question now was whether the largest possible sum could be obtained by the plan before the House. He himself believed that it was the only plan which would realize anything whatever. His hon. Friend the Member for the City (Mr. Crawford) proposed that the Bill should be postponed for six weeks in order to obtain further information on the subject; but he (Sir William Russell) would remind the House that there had been five Committees, two Royal Commissions, and twenty-seven other inquiries on this subject, producing an amount of evidence which filled ten large blue-books and forty odd pamphlets, published under authority. The Metropolitan Board of Works had been considering the subject for years, and they had come to an almost unanimous decision in favour of this scheme. If the House delayed this Bill for six weeks it would be virtually throwing over the subject for another year. He hoped, therefore, that the House would send the Bill to a Committee upstairs, where the scientific and other evidence on the subject could be fully investigated.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir William Russell.)


said, he had been requested by the Corporation of the City of London, by the ratepayers of several wards and parishes in the City, and also by several ratepayers without the City, to move that the second reading of this Bill be postponed with special reference to the inquiry of the Committee to be proposed by the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon (Lord Robert Montagu). This was not a question of contention between the Board of Works and the City of London, as had been alleged, for he believed the opposition to the Bill at its present stage would receive the support of several representatives of metropolitan constituencies. He hoped the House would consider that this was a question on which differences of opinion might fairly exist, and which might be reasonably discussed, without supposing that private influences or private feelings actuated either the City of London or the Metropolitan Board of Works in the matter. The hon. Gen- tleman who moved the second reading of the Bill (Sir William Russell) deprecated the practice of intercepting Private Bills on the second reading; but he (Mr. Crawford) believed the House would not part with the opportunity of discussing important principles which might be involved in Private Bills. There were many inconveniences attending an inquiry of this kind before a Private Bill Committee. In the first place, the conduct of the business before the Committee was almost entirely in the hands of professional gentlemen, whose object was, not to elicit the truth, but to achieve a victory for the party for whom they were retained. He apprehended, under those circumstances, that where matters involved important principles that House and not a Select Committee was the tribunal by which the decision should be pronounced. His hon. Friend said that the question of metropolitan sewage and the plan of Messrs. Hope and Napier had already been sufficiently discussed. Upon that point various differences of opinion existed, and he was told that one authority of the highest eminence in all matters of agricultural chemistry—Baron Liebeg—had declared that the scheme of Messrs. Hope and Napier was visionary, and that it could not be attended with any profitable result, and the readers of The Standard of yesterday would be aware of a second letter from that eminent man enforcing the same point. It was under these circumstances that he asked the House to refer the examination of the principle which this Bill involved, not to four Gentlemen selected because they wore supposed not to have any special acquaintance with or interest in the subject, but to such a Committee as that which the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon was shortly to ask the House to appoint, where the whole question could be thoroughly discussed without the interference of gentlemen whose object was to distract the Committee and to achieve a victory for their own side. The course which he asked the House to take was not without precedent. The other night the House refused to read the Liverpool Licensing Bill because it involved an important principle which ought not to be referred to the decision of a Private Committee. Again, in the case of the case of the Wimbledon Enclosure Bill, which involved an important principle relative to the open spaces about the metropolis, the second reading was postponed, and the question referred to the determination of the Committee which was subsequently moved for by the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Doulton). Seeing, therefore, that this question involved consequences of the most momentous character to the ratepayers of the metropolis, and that persons of high authority thought that the value of the sewage of the metropolis was infinitely larger than what was proposed to be given in the Bill, he hoped the House would postpone it in the meantime.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six weeks."—(Mr. Crawford.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, the proposition before the House was whether this Bill should be read a second time and sent to a Committee upstairs, and he should support the Motion. The question of the utilization of the sewage had been long under the consideration of the Board of Works, and in 1862 they had advertized for tenders and begun to consider various plans and schemes; but their action had been interrupted by the inquiries instituted by the House in the Committees of 1863 and 1864. The matter lay in a very small compass. The propositions reported upon by the Committee of the Board were twelve, but they finally culminated into two. One was the suggestion or proposition of Mr. Ellis, and the other was that of Messrs. Hope and Napier. In 1862, the latter gentlemen had taken the pains and gone to the expense of introducing a Bill supporting their system; but Mr. Ellis, he believed, had never taken any steps at all in the matter. The question was a very simple one, but it turned upon very grave and important questions. In the evidence before the Committee they had the most extraordinary differences of opinion. On the one hand it was said that it would require 500,000 or 600,000 acres to utilize the sewage of London, amounting to the enormous quantity of 80,000,000 gallons in the twenty-four hours; a very eminent gentleman on the other side stated that 30,000 acres would be quite sufficient; and the Committee itself, over which the noble Lord opposite presided, shrank from coming to any conclusion. In the meanwhile the Metropolitan Board of Works resolved to judge for themselves, and they appointed a large deputation, which visited Rugby, Croyden, Carlisle, and other places where sewage had been utilised. They found that the most successful utilization of sewage was at Craigentinny meadows, near Edinburgh, where common sea sand, not worth 3s. an acre, was now rated at £22. The proposition of Messrs. Hope and Napier involved the enclosing of a very large extent of sand in the ordinary way of embankment, and so to utilize the sewage over that sand. The Metropolitan Board had adopted that scheme, for this reason amongst others, that it would remove the sewage forty miles further down the river, to the ocean; whereas Mr. Ellis proposed to take the sewage at the point where it was to flow into the Thames, and pump it back again to Hampstead and Shooters Hill; and it did appear to the Metropolitan Board that after having spent £4,000,000 in taking the sewage down to the river it would be inconsistent to bring it back again. With regard to the question of the value of the sewage, the Metropolitan Board had secured by an agreement with Messrs. Hope and Napier, after payment of 5 per cent on the outlay, half of whatever profit might accrue from the utilization of the sewage, and there would also be a power of resuming the right conceded; whereas Mr. Ellis proposed that he should have a monopoly of the sewage for an unlimited period in return for half profits. On the question of the value of the sewage very different opinions were entertained. Mr. Rawlinson, one of the principal engineers of the Government, told the Committee point blank that no money value could be obtained from it, and that anybody embarking in a large speculation of that kind would become a bankrupt. He (Mr. Tite) could not say whether Mr. Rawlinson was right or wrong in his opinion, but it appeared to the Metropolitan Board that the experiment might be more reasonably and fairly tried by the adoption of the proposal by Messrs. Hope and Napier than by the adoption of any other scheme, and on that ground they supported the Bill. Notwithstanding the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford), that it was not a question as between the Corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works, he feared that it was, and the violent way in which the Metropolitan Board had been spoken of was calculated to lead one to think that some jealousy existed in reference to the Board. However, if the Bill went before a Committee upstairs, that matter would be properly sifted, and the Corporation of London have a locus standi to appear before that Committee. If the Bill were postponed six weeks, it was quite clear that nothing would be done this year in reference to sewage. He trusted, therefore, the House would read the Bill a second time, and allow it to be laid before a Select Committee in the usual way.


said, the question before the House, as submitted by his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford), appeared to him to be this—whether the House would put a stop to the only practical scheme that had yet been submitted to any Committee of that House for the profitable and useful disposal of the sewage of the City of London. The Committee which sat last year, presided over by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu) had censured the Metropolitan Board of Works for their inactivity in not taking steps for utilizing the sewage of London, and it was in consequence of the passage which appeared in the Report of that Committee, animadverting on the conduct of the Board of Works in this matter, that that Board at last made great efforts to extend their investigation of this subject, the result of which had been the adoption by them of the measure now before the House. The first question which the House had to consider in connection with the sewage of the metropolis was how they were to get rid of that which had become so dangerous to the health of the people. It had been proved in evidence that, owing to the reflux of the tide and between the action up and down, the whole progress made by the sewage in the course of twenty-four hours towards the sea was but one mile. It thus followed that from London to Gravesend, a distance of about thirty miles, they had thirty days' sewage going backwards and forwards in the Thames; and it became a question of the greatest necessity for the House to consider in what way they could entirely rid the river of that abomination. Now the Bill before the House would remove the sewage of the north side of London, entirely out of the valley of the Thames, and deliver it into the German Ocean at a point where it could no longer prove obnoxious to the inhabitants of the metropolis. As to the question of the value of the sewage, which was of very great importance, whatever different opinions there might be among such eminent chemists as Liebeg, Lawes, and others, on minor points, there was no difference that the value of the ingredients of the sewage of London, as compared with the value of guano, was something under 2d. per ton. Mr. Lawes stated that he should be happy to pay 2d. a ton for the use of this sewage for his farm, provided he could get it at any time, and only in such quantity as he chose to take it; but that he would not give a half-penny a ton for it if he were obliged to take it at every season of the year, and in quantities far too large for the uses to which he had to apply it. The necessity of having to take it during the heavy rains of winter, when the lands were saturated with moisture, would be an injury instead of being a benefit; and that was the point upon which the difference had arisen as to the value of this article. The preponderance of evidence was in favour of the application of sewage for the production of grass. The most successful application of sewage had been made at a place near Edinburgh referred to by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite). There were, however, other cases, as at Rugby, where the conclusion arrived at was that to use the sewage profitably it must be supplied at the lowest cost of transmission. It had also been applied at Croydon at the rate of something like 4,000 tons an acre, and the price paid for it was £1 an acre. At Alnwick when the late Duke of Northumberland endeavoured to utilize the sewage, the farmers would not take it. Another point was the necessity of providing for the constant and increasing supply of the sewage of a city like London, which exhibited so vast an increase of population annually. Essex had the advantage of being the only county into which the metropolitan sewage could be carried quite clear of the valley of the Thames until it reached the German Ocean. It was also the least residential county near London, and the sewage might therefore be conveyed and applied with the least injury to the population. Objections had been made to the length of the culvert through which the sewage would have to pass on its way down to the sea. The length, however, appeared to him to be a great advantage. It extended between forty and fifty miles, having on each side of it an extensive area over which by gravitation it would be possible to extend the useful application of the sewage either in small doses or in any other manner found to be most advantageous. He believed that after a few years very little manure would ever reach the other end of the culvert. It appeared to him, without at present expressing any opinion on the Bill, that the proposal of the promoters to deduct 8 per cent for the interest of their money before any part of the profits was divided, was fair and moderate. He wished he could see as good and as useful a scheme proposed for the south side of the Thames as this for the north. He hoped the House would allow the Bill to go before a Committee, so that it might be fully consisidered on its engineering and financial merits. He could not help bearing his testimony to the valuable services of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu), and the perseverance with which he had conducted this question. If it had not been for the noble Lord's Committee, and the decision to which they had come, the House would not now have before it this useful Bill.


said, the real difficulty in the case was this—that they had deputed to two different bodies the performance of one and the same function. It was for this reason that they had only one scheme before them, which they must either accept or reject. They had told the Metropolitan Board of Works that the sewage was theirs to give away; but they had not given them the necessary powers to carry out the works; they had to come to Parliament for these. And it was not worth while for any promoter to go to the expense of making surveys and coming before Parliament, unless the Metropolitan Board had conceded the sewage to him. Consequently the Board had acted as a sieve, and had strained out every promoter and every scheme except one, and they were saying to Messrs. Hope and Napier, "We cannot give you the power to carry out the work, but we will allow no other promoter except you to go before Parliament in order to obtain those powers." The concession of the sewage was in their hands; they had given it to the promoters of this Bill, who had made a survey, and were now before the House. The House, therefore, had no opportunity of choosing any scheme which might be more advantageous to the metropolis. With respect to the rivalry on the part of the City Corporation which had been alluded to, he must express his firm conviction that no such rivalry existed. The object of the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Crawford), as well as of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), was to consider all schemes for utilizing the sewage of London, so that the ratepayers might receive the greatest value for their manure. How was it that the Metropolitan Board of Works had so pertinaciously fixed on the only scheme which had been placed before the House. This scheme had been quite Protean in its varied aspects. At first it came out as a plan for reclaiming 20,000 acres of quicksands in the German Ocean. It then had for one of its features the utilization of the sewage over 12,000 acres in Essex, before it reached the quicksands. Now the sewage was to be spread over no less than 105,000 acres of good land in Essex; and the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Caird) seemed to doubt whether the sewage would ever reach the sands at all; he was of opinion that it would be exhausted on the land before it could arrive at the sea. The reclamation of the sands was therefore now less relied upon than ever. This was certainly a great improvement on the scheme which had before received the sanction of the Board. It had been gradually more and more assimilated to the schemes which had been rejected. But he (Lord Robert Montagu) did not regard the scheme as yet perfect. It would probably appear to the Committee that there were other plans superior to it, and which would bring in a larger income. In the first place the culvert, he thought, was placed too near the river. It was like a coast railway. Besides, the culvert was of enormous length; it would almost reach from London to Hastings. In the second place, it had been admitted by Mr. Thwaites that the sewage could only be utilized upon that land in Essex during five months in the year, and that during seven months of the year it would have to run into the Thames as it did now. This he stated to the Committee in answer to Questions 309 to 325. How was it, then, that the Board of Works had so pertinaciously fixed upon this scheme? The Metropolitan Board had doubtless felt that they would have placed themselves in a very absurd position if, after spending £5,000,000 to take all the sewage of the vast metropolitan area to the east, they had allowed a company to spend £5,000,000 more to conduct it back to the west. He thus accounted for the obstinate support which the Metropolitan Board had always given to a scheme which proposed to take the sewage fifty miles further east—namely, to the Maplin Quicksands, and cared not whether it were utilized on 105,000 acres, or on 12,000 acres, or on no land at all between London and the Quicksands. The sewage of the north side of London ought to have been used on the land on the north side by gravitation; and the sewage of the west in the same way upon the west side. In this way only the sewage of the lowest level would have had to be pumped, and a vast expense would have been saved. He could not, however, admit that the Metropolitan Board had shown any hurry in dealing with this question. So late as 1864 Mr. Thwaites stated in answer to Questions 249, 294, 298, 349, 352, that the Board had not yet considered the value of the sewage which they had to sell, nor the proper extent of area over which it should be utilized; moreover the Board had not up to that time visited a single town where the sewage was utilized. The Board had gone to various towns last November, at the very worst time of year for judging of the effects of the sewage, and had reported that which every one else had known before. He thought it very desirable to send this Bill to a Select Committee, because he believed that some plan might be adopted greatly preferable to the present scheme in a financial point of view.


trusted the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Crawford) would not press his Motion to a division. It was impossible for the House to deal with the question of the sewage of London on that occassion—it had only to consider how it could deal practically with the Bill, and he submitted that it should appoint what was called "a hybrid Committee," some of the Members being selected on account of their special taste for sewage questions, the others being appointed in the ordinary manner of Gentlemen who where perfectly disinterested and impartial. Such a Committee as that he proposed in the Amendment of which he had given notice would form the best possible tribunal to which to refer the subject, and he had no doubt it would arrive at satisfactory results. If they were to have any real practical inquiry, the sooner the better, and he therefore objected to the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Crawford) to postpone the second reading for six weeks. Without going into the merits of the question, he trusted the House would adopt, as it had done in other similar cases, the only practical way of working out the subject; and they might then hope to arrive at a conclusion which would be satisfactory.


denied that this was a question between the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works, as alleged by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite). It was a question which concerned the ratepayers, whom the Metropolitan Board had an unlimited power of taxing. It had been alleged by scientific men that this sewage was a most valuable commodity, and the Metropolitan Board, in their wisdom, had taken a great deal of time to determine what was the fit and proper mode of dealing with it. But that deliberation seemed now to be compensated by their excessive hurry in deciding upon a contract which was to shut up this question for a period of fifty years. What he asked for was further inquiry; and that not for the City of London, but for those who were paying £4,000,000 of money to which they had been rated, to carry out a system of drainage now incomplete, inasmuch as the low-level sewer, which was to be the principal channel by which the system was to be carried out, had only just been begun. A short delay, therefore, with respect to a scheme which one of its supporters had stated to be most chimerical would not be unreasonable. [Mr. CAIRD: I called it a problematical scheme.] Well, then, suppose this problematical scheme were to get half way through—suppose the sewage had been carried half way down to the Maplin Sands, and then they were induced to pump back again a commodity which Baron Liebeg and other great authorities had stated to be so valuable, what would be thought of it? He was of opinion that the House ought to take some time to consider the plan.


submitted that the hon. Member for the City of London had not made out such a primâ facie case as would induce the House to depart from the ordinary course of referring the Bill to a Committee. Though the hon. Member had only proposed a delay of six weeks, that might be taken to mean six months, and in fact the year would be entirely lost. The matter was one of the most pressing importance. The main sewers would be soon completed, the northern and middle levels might this year pour their contents into Barking Creek, and, therefore, what our existing state of knowledge showed to be best ought to be done at once. In fact, the Metropolitan Board, instead of having pushed the matter too rapidly, had delayed it too long. There was strong primâ facie evidence in favour of the Bill. First of all, instead of the sewage being poured out into the river, where it would be returned by the tides, it provided for its being carried much further down—it would, in fact, be conveyed into the German Ocean. And, in the next place, provision was made to prevent waste, because it was proposed to distribute the sewage on the way for agricultural purposes. Whether the proposed method were profitable or not, at all events, the main object, that of removing the sewage from the vicinity of London, would be attained. What the House wanted was, that this matter should be fully and carefully inquired into by a Committee; but as to the details of the measure the House was not called upon, to express any opinion. It appeared to him that if the measure proposed by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets were adopted, it would exactly meet the views of the House. He hoped that the hon. Member for the City of London would withdraw his opposition on the understanding that the Bill should be referred to a Committee, such as that suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, that the whole question of the utilization of the sewage was beset with difficulties and uncertainties. There were many plans proposed, and he altogether objected to the House being tied down to the consideration of one plan and no other. He hoped the House would refuse to read the Bill a second time at present.


said, he would withdraw his Motion on the understanding that the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets should be accepted.


also said, that he was willing to accept it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn;

Main Question put, and agreed to;

Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee of Ten, half to be nominated by the House, and half by the Committee of Selection. Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, to inquire into the most useful and profitable means of disposing of the Metropolitan Sewage on the north side of the Thames.—(Mr. Ayrton.)